Cancer. Sunny Side Up.

Okay.  We did it.

We survived Round 1, eight hours in the chemo chair and 7 shots of immune boosting hell! It’s been a week and change and I feel like I’m finally coming out of the fog. That “chemo brain” symptom is a real thing because I have never felt more dumb in my entire life!  (Thus the whole lack of updates here).  So far, I’ve run the gauntlet of symptoms. An entire sheet of symptoms were there daily but each day one would pull ahead of the pack and make my life a little more confusing.  The one constant… I can’t taste anything. My favorite foods now taste foul.  The only thing I want to eat lately… Thai food. Weird. I know.

Bone pain hit me last Tuesday night and I can honestly say it is worse than labor pain. It comes in waves just like contractions and suddenly you are gripping the closest piece of furniture to keep from falling to the floor.  I’m going today for labs to see if we can maybe ease up a bit on the white blood cell shots for the next rounds. But there is already good news. All my symptoms are manageable with medication and we hopefully have a game plan of what next time will look like and when to take them so that it doesn’t have to be quite as bad.

I’ve said it before but one of the biggest shocks of chemo was that… I’m sick.  I’ve been sick all along but I didn’t feel it till now. Feeling and knowing are two very different things.  I know he won’t mind me telling you this but, the other day the mister and I were arguing about mundane, boring, married people household things when suddenly I heard myself say “But, what happens if I die?” First off, holy way to fight dirty, Ashley!  And trust me, he won the argument right after the words escaped me ( mostly because I realized the argument was coming from somewhere other than my conscious mind).  But second, I figured out just how scared I actually am.

If you think I’m not scared, you haven’t been paying attention.  My resolve comes out when I’m terrified. If it’s fight or flight, I’m a mean mother.  Some of you think I’m positive, but honestly I’m just a scared girl literally fighting for her life.  My battle plan has always been get FIGHTING mad, don’t dwell on it, live your life.  But, in the back of my mind it’s there.  I can say with 100% certainty I’m not scared to die. Something like this really cements your faith, one way or another.  At the same time, I’m absolutely terrified of what happens if I’m not around for the people I love.  In a way death isn’t about you, it’s about the people who love you.  Every now and then you have to think about these things.  We all do.  We all die someday.  For me, it felt better to acknowledge the fear.  Once I know what I’m scared of, I can manage it, put it in its place, and not start stupid fights with an amazing person out of subconscious fear.

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Like a Boss… Always

Cancer has already gifted me with a stronger marriage.  The mister has always been my best friend but now he’s also my battle buddy.  Watching the words “in sickness and in health” become a real life mission, changes your perspective on a person.  If you think after ten years you know a person in every way, you’re wrong (or you stopped looking at them properly).  We have evolved, changed, and come back different people.  Getting to see his strength through this has given me just one more perspective on how perfectly I chose my other half.

Funny thing is, cancer should have taken a lot from me (and it’s still going to… umm, goodbye boobies much?).  I honestly feel like it has given me a lot more.  A new-found inner peace and strength.  Time with my amazing family who I wish lived closer.  The extreme kindness of strangers known only to those in the Cancer club.  Strangely, an acceptance of my body that I have never known.  And in the end…. brand new perky gals with some endless wardrobe possibilities. Adios, bra!

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Side Effects May Vary

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Lots of little helpers

We are three days into Round 1 of chemo and I have to tell you… those side effects are no joke.  Although everything is currently super manageable, today has been the first day without steroids and the second day of bone pain inducing injections (5 more of those to go this round).  Needless to say, this is going to get worse.  I have no doubt in my mind.  The first day post chemo, I started journaling any and all side effects that popped up to help me better plan for the next rounds.  I’m pretty sure by the end of the day, the list looks a lot worse than the reality.  With the better half of the Pepto jingle in my head, a faux sunburn covering my body, and 10 POUNDS worth of swelling, yesterday was a cake walk compared to today.  Today, the exhaustion really set in, begging the question…. “How the heck am I going to do anything but watch Netflix and eat popsicles for the next 4 months?”

And the list grows....

And the list grows….

The real, unexpected side effects of chemo can’t be found on any prep list.  Like, why did no one warn me I’d be almost compulsively obsessed with shaving my head?!  For weeks now, all my dreams have starred a very bald me, which leads me to believe I’m definitely having some control issues here.  The thought of watching it fall out has me wanting to break out the trimmers every few minutes!  I feel that moment of commitment coming soon.  I won’t let a little hair control me.

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my puppy accessory

My furry child has also popped up as an unlikely side effect. I’m convinced that the little dog can legitimately SMELL the chemo working its way out of my body.  He can’t leave me be.  If he tries to get any closer, he might as well move into my mouth because his head just keeps appearing there!

The biggest part of starting this process has been the realization that… I have cancer.  Sure, I’m very well aware that I’ve had it all along, and it’s been a sort of reality for awhile now.  But until the feeling of sickness finally hits your body, there is still a part of you that denies it.  I’d find myself saying “I’m completely healthy, except I have cancer”.  Because, how can one be so sick and feel so fine?  This new battle on my body gives my head a run for its money because, it is a lot harder to forget when the side effects are with you all day.

Ding Ding. Round One!

So, today it begins. Who’s ready to get this party started?!

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Party on down… At Chemo Town

Just to catch you up a bit, it turns out that it was a great thing we didn’t start chemotherapy last week.  My chemo plan has completely changed up since finding out that ol’ Lefty is actually hormone sensitive.  Now we are doing 6 rounds of chemo, one six hour session every three weeks.  There will also be daily shots, at least this first week, to help keep my immune system up (rumor is they are worse than the chemo i.e. bone pain).  It’ll be worth it.  And seriously, having a twin C-section without anesthesia will sufficiently hike up your pain tolerance… I’m ready.  The Doc even bet me a dollar the other day that my PET scan would show the cancer was entirely gone post chemo.  WHEN the cancer is gone, we will go in for a double mastectomy.

Anyone hear that bell?  Because, this fight just started.  Countdown ON, knockers!

Ok. Ok. So maybe I’m being a bit cocky.  It honestly helps me cope to be in this mindset of over-confidence.  So many of you have sent your encouragement in the form of praise, this week especially.  Sometimes I feel like I need to go back and re-read what I’ve written so I can maybe see a little bit of what you’re seeing.  Before I hit publish, I always ask Cam the same question,  “Am I being honest?”.  I never want to deceive you as we go through this together but every time I find, I’m just me.  I’m just surviving the only way I know how.  I have been humbled in the knowledge that so many of you are finding your own strength through this process.  We don’t get to choose our obstacles.  We can only choose how we react to them.  For me, I don’t want to cower, I want to charge head first, because, well sometimes I’m just all in for this moment.  That’s why today, we decided to literally get this party started.  We came geared up for some fun!

My nurses even went to go find some pink surgical gloves so they could be "twinges" with my cheerful gear, including this sweet surprise blanket waiting at the front desk from dear friends!

My nurses even went to go find some pink surgical gloves so they could be “twinsies” with my cheerful gear, including this sweet surprise blanket waiting at the front desk from dear friends!

Because I’m at least 20 years younger than anyone else in the open bay area, the stares were already coming anyway.  Why not kick it up a notch?  When the IV Benadryl that was supposed to make me drowsy kicked in… we literally said ‘screw it’.  You see… apparently the “drowsy” stuff makes me bounce off the walls.  I told them they may strap me to the chair if I started dancing!  Ha!  But seriously…  So we got on a good level with all the staff here, who I’m sure are pleased (or not) that I was ready for some giggles… Definitely complimenting the gals on their choice today of Kentucky blue scrubs!  We watched Divergent to get ready for the sequel tomorrow, which we are committed to come hell or high water.  I had a sweet little lunch date with the mister who had to leave afterwards to rescue the tinys (or Melody from the tinys, who knows?) .  And now… I’m catching you up! And coloring… okay mostly coloring!  Can we consider chemo time a mini vacation? Is that wrong?

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Chemo Round 1 of 6… Accomplished! Like a boss.

I only get a few more days, maybe hours, of energy so I’m taking full advantage of the steroids and the high that intravenous Benadryl seems to give me.  Tomorrow, we will worry about tomorrow (and the side effects to come).  I can’t dwell on it because it’s still an unknown.  And how silly would it be to worry about something that isn’t a problem yet? (Trust me that was not always the case with me).  Sometimes going through something big makes you stop worrying about the small.  Suddenly, so much just falls away.  All I know… Today was a good day because we chose to make it that way!

Chemo Day… The Trial Run…

I wouldn’t normally post this close back to back, but the questions are coming in. To be honest, I thought I’d be feeling a teeny bit rough today.  As so many of you so sweetly remembered, today was supposed to be my first day of chemotherapy.  I could not sleep with the anticipation of today. Pretty sure my nervous energy was that of a kid waiting for Santa… Too bad, the fat man didn’t show! (que the tiny violins because the pity party was real!)

Three hours before I was supposed to show up for Chemo Day 1, I got a phone call letting me know that we would be postponing… temporarily until who knew when.  They may has well said never in my brain.  This was definitely the first time my care team saw me lose it. My response… “No”, followed by begging, a couple tears, and finally, straight up rage. I mean “who do I have to choke around here to get some answers?”  Thankfully they already have a true sense about me and know that if I was reacting like this, they really messed up.  Nothing like a little guilt for motivating the masses.

Some of you may remember me telling you that the cancer on my right side is different than my left.  Well… ol’ Lefty apparently decided to require some last minute further testing.  The results of this test will help them to better tailor my chemo medications.  Honestly, I’m glad we are getting this right.  But couldn’t we have figured this out… I don’t know… not today?

The bad news… today rocked my spirit.  HARD.  The good news… everyone was so ready for this chemo day with me, I couldn’t stay mad.  Cheery messages and surprise visitors and caring gifts showed up to root me through what was supposed to be a triumphant moment.  My parents arrived one hour after the phone call since they were supposed to be helping take care of me (aka spoil the grandkids).  The mister and I decided to go pick out a wig (courtesy of Tricare for any military who might find themselves in this situation someday).  This was one outing I would not regret.

My alter ego. She is, of course going to be a feisty redhead instead of this boring brown.

My alter ego. She is, of course going to be a feisty redhead instead of this boring brown.

I expected to have lots of craziness as we flipped through some styles. The wigs they have on hand are only in one color so you have to attempt to look past the color as you try on.  Surprisingly, I found my new persona almost immediately (name TBD when she shows up in the proper color).

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Two up… two down…

Two up.... two way down... Guess who is definitely not a blonde?

Guess who is definitely not a blonde?

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Did pick up this spiffy hat for leisure time… with red hair, of course.

Now… the guy who really had fun… The mister.  He seriously just has to be this awesome all the time.

We're starting the Hair Band next week. Don't worry!

We’re starting the Hair Band next week. Don’t worry!

After the wig expedition, we decided to see if we can get anything done about getting this chemo process started. Well, guess what. We are apparently both awesome because well… Chemo Day 1 Thursday 8:30am in the books.  And this girl is back to feeling just like a boss!

* Side Note: The soap opera glow on the picture is from weird lighting at the boutique… not so much our inner glow. lol

Saying Thank You

These days, the words “thank you” seem to have lost their meaning for me. I mean, how can I sufficiently convey my gratidude with words used so plainly and so often?  They have lost their true nature with their constant uttering over the last couple months. For weeks, I have been wanting to write this post but have struggled with how I can ever possibly say this (not to mention the tears I’m trying fight as I try to explain it). 

During this time of instability, I find that I can not cry over my situation.  My body no longer holds the capacity to dwell on what is. I had one day of tears, then that was over.  It’s just a part of my story.  But everytime a letter, a care package, a pick me up arrives into my life, the tears are new and fresh (we are talking ugly cry here people).  The gratitude has been overwhelming and my heart feels like it might burst.  The gifts, messages, and cards have been lovely (and so appreciated) but the truest present you have given me is your love through actions and your words.  Every syllable rings in my heart.  They fortify me, and I carry them with me. 

The gift in this awful situation is that I’ve found my family is huge and varying.  I feel you rallying behind me.  My Somerset girls who have been with me from childhood.  My frat brothers (and the girls who hold those memories with me) who have seen me through the many struggles that college threw me.  My Army family who spreads across the globe but could never be separated by silly things like geography.  My extended family that has always been “weird” in our extreme like to spend time together (rolling 20 deep to the beach? No biggie). From my closest relations to complete strangers, the sentiments are eerily similar.  “You’ve got this, and we’ve got you”. 

So how will a “thank you” ever reverberate all I need to say to you?  It won’t.  It can’t.  Instead I’m just going to say I love you, too.  And, if you got my six, I got yours.  Always.  

Jumping Hurdles

WHAT. A. WEEK.

Let’s just say… Flu-1. Ashley-0.  This post probably won’t hold any of my wit since my common sense is barely hanging by a thread.  I’ve spent the week in a near coma, while still managing to be physically (if not so much mentally) present at a whopping 7 doctor appointments. Funny thing about the flu, no one really cares about that when you have cancer. “Oh, you are immobilized with a highly contagious virus… we are still going to need for you to come in to have radioactive this or that injected in to your body”.

At least fever induced shopping was for cute headscarves....

At least fever induced shopping was for cute headscarves….

But, it’s Friday, the packages from bed-bound flu-induced online shopping are rolling in, and I’m almost human again. Or, at least I was until they had to re-route my Port this morning….

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Port officially useable… Check!

Yesterday’s appointment was super informative so I figured I better catch you guys up.  I met with my oncologist to find out all the specifics of my cancer.  Turns out I have triple-negative breast cancer.  This is good because it is not hormone sensitive, (read…no immediate removal of my ovaries leading to super early menopause).  It is not so good news in the sense that it is more aggressive and does not respond to certain types of treatment. Chemotherapy though…. That should still put a hurtin’ on this thing, and that WILL be starting Thursday, March 12th! (Yay! I have a date, a time, a designated chair to report to!)  After that, I’ll have weekly infusions for 12 weeks, followed by 8 weeks of every other week.  So we are looking at about 5 months.  Five months of chemotherapy?  Yeah… for some reason hearing that laid out, that was a real ringer.  At the end of five months, hopefully the cancer will be almost if not completely gone before we hit the operating table. The odds of being in chemo induced remission are about 50/50 but I like to think I’m a bit special. The doctor did tell me that he only sees a port insertion like mine once a year…. Though that wasn’t such a hot thing seeing as the had to go in through my femoral vein and redirect the tube back towards my heart…. BUT, we’ll keep with the whole “Ashley, can never be just normal” thing, and know in our hearts that this chemo is going to rock socks.

The error in my port placement was actually sort of a blessing in disguise.  Since we had to re-route it today, I’m getting my week back. I was so angry about the loss of this final week with my family before the chaos.  As much as I wanted to be starting chemo today, this week is my do over.  So now, I’m going to try to take everything in and appreciate the practiced routine and sublime normalcy that is my life….at least for another week, anyway. You’ll have to excuse me now… the couch is calling. It’s officially Mexican takeout and movie night with Mom and my Mister.  Hello, Friday!

Sneaky Rage

I should be mad. I’m 28, with a young family, and so many adventures already on the books.  I should be angry as hell that this THING has happened to me. But mostly, I’m not. I’ve had conversations with my family about how lucky I am. Can you imagine?

If this THING was to be a part of my story, I’m so grateful it happened now. My husband’s job has afforded him flexibility to help care for me and more importantly my babies.  The active duty military insurance means we will walk away at the end of this debt free with no deductibles to meet, or bills to pay.  And my babies… I only asked for one but I got two. Two wonderful girls who made me realize I was always meant to be a mama. I don’t have to fear how this might effect my future having kids like so many young diagnosed because I already have the perfect, family filling set.  Their current age is even a gift. They are old enough to be less of a challenge for new caretakers. But more importantly, their youth means that the odds are in my favor. I don’t have to be scared that this will hurt them. Being apart  from them so much already is taking its toll but they won’t remember the fear, the struggle, the fight.

So when I say that today has filled me with rage, I don’t do it lightly. I woke up to feel it smack me in the face in the form of the flu.  This was supposed to be my last good week for a while. Of feeling normal. Of having my babies next to me without restriction. Instead, I’m spending this week before chemo trying to make sure I’m healthy enough for the tear down that is about to take place. I’m being isolated to keep from infecting the rest of my family.  As destroyed as my body feels, I don’t feel broken, I feel furious! I don’t like feeling like I’ve been robbed of something so precious. I guess this just means I have to work twice as hard to brush off those chemo side effects….