Life… in Remission

Ok guys. I know. Its been a long time. Six months long.

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IF you haven’t noticed… I’ve always got my hands a bit full. lol

I feel like that really bad friend (don’t pretend like you don’t know the one!), who reads your text message and POOF! forgets to write you back.  Its not that I didn’t hear you, and I tried to respond as I got messages but something really awesome has been happening…

Somewhere along the last six months (HOLY COW ITS BEEN SIX MONTHS?), cancer stopped being the biggest thing in my life. Does that mean the last few months hasn’t been chocked full of doctors and drugs and yada yada… Hell no! I’ve been straight hustling since we last talked. So lets get up to treatment speed.

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Ding Ding. No more radiation

Since we last spoke, I completed 33 rounds of bilateral radiation, which was of course not with out its complications.  I had a massive staph infection develop which almost resulted in hospitalization. Thank goodness it responded well to medication because… ain’t nobody got time for that! Radiation (and staph medication) wrapped up just before Thanksgiving.

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Entered 2016 with a ton of hair… Finally!

Next on the schedule was a total hysterectomy in early December. I won’t get nitty gritty but basically they took out all my lady parts.  With the BRCA1 gene, I decided that I was happy with my two tiny humans and committed to this radical option as a preventative measure. Anyone who knows me, knew there was a time when I didn’t want a single kiddo so the fact that I have two is pretty awesome. I didn’t think that this surgery would be too big of a deal. Until…after they basically sterilized me… my recovery was spent on the post-pardum floor…  Hello screaming, beautiful tiny infants and doors bedecked with happy wreaths. Thanks for the new mental anguish and my burning desire to have six children I was in no way prepared for…. Yeah. I’m glad to say that the hurt didn’t last, so I’m going to blame it on the heavy narcotics.

With the new year, came my next surgery and some new medication.  In order to give my chest a softer appearance, they fat grafted areas of my stomach into my chest. I know what you’re thinking, “Heck yes, lets redistribute the fat from my belly to my boobs!” But the truth is the results would be barely noticeable to anyone but me. It was totally worth it though. I went from feeling like “Spongebob Square Boobs” to something closer to round. The surgery was hardly painful and a quick recovery.  The new medication on the other hand….. Yeah. Not so much.

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Also had my last infusion during that time. YAY, no more “active” treatment!!!!

 

My oncologist has put me on a medication that I will be taking for the next ten years to help me stay in remission.  While I now feel like a normal functioning human, the first few months on this drug were legitimate hell.  The side effects that I personally was experiencing was insomnia, hot flashes, nausea, food aversion, disorientation, and all around just feeling like an idiot.  I was a little scared to be home with my children so needless to say… despite my ability to push through grad school in the fall, my plans for graduating with my masters got pushed one more semester. Wah Wah. Thank God (seriously) the effects only lasted until about the beginning of March. I’m back to my normal scatterbrained, loud mouthed , Big Mac eating self.

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Good thing I got this guy to hold my hand

Next up on the docket…. my LAT flap reconstruction surgery.  Click the link for more details but let’s just say they are taking muscles from my back and inserting them into my front. Yeah.  Guys, I’m scared.  I don’t GET scared about this sort of thing but my doc looked at me and said “This is going to hurt, it’s going to hurt REALLY bad”.  While I appreciate the heads up, the fact that he said it let’s me know it’s time to get serious. (Serious is my least favorite word just BTW).

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Found me a few “ride or die” gals to see me through… well… EVERYTHING!

So what now? Well on April 19th, I’ll have surgery. Then, we’ll have two more before we are done completely with reconstruction in a few months.  Did I mention we are trying to sell our house?… And moving to Kansas this summer?… And that I turned THIRTY? So, there is stress and distraction but there is also soo much excitement.  I’ve gotten back to the gym and I’m going to do an obstacle race with the hubs pre-surgery, you know, just to prove I’m still a badass, obviously!  And the house, well, I’m in with love this house but I love that someone else is going to love it too.  And the move… have I mentioned I get stir crazy if we live somewhere too long? And being thirty? GUYS, I SURVIVED TO THIRTY! And I’m seriously going to celebrate that as much as possible, surrounded by the amazing people who have helped us get through my 29th year with as much smiles and hugs and casseroles as they could muster! Thanks for being a part of the hardest, most challenging and life changing year of my life!

P.s. I should note that I’ve had three cancer screenings so far this year. STILL ALL CLEAR! Woot woot!

 

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Be Still….

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“It means no boobies, for the rest of your dayssssss… It’s our cancer freeeee…. Philosophyyyyy…… Hakuna Ma-Tatas!” Yes… Yes, I am insane.

It has been more than two months since my last update. And there are some very good reasons for that. For the first half of this lost time, I was quite literally in the twilight zone. After six weeks hopped up on pain meds, I had to go back and re-read all your awesome messages not to mention my own (note to self: don’t dose and post!). Though, I did find my song rendition of Hakuna My-Tatas very enlightening a few hours post surgery.

Don't worry. I had tiny doctors the whole time.

Don’t worry. I had tiny doctors the whole time.

The second reason I haven’t posted is because, well… I didn’t want to bore you to death! I already gave you the good news. Surgery went amazing. The double mastectomy removed the little dying traces of cancer left in my body. (so close, chemo-induced remission!) So, we can assume that it is gone and staying gone. The first step to reconstruction (expansion) went well and I now have what could pass as a normal bosom while clothed. And today… I finally have more info to report.

It is very strange. I have felt more anxiety in the last two weeks than I have during this entire process. Before, I had cancer. We were busy fighting it. BOOM! Mission accomplished. It would appear to most that we are nearing the end of this little odyssey. Sad facts… we are only half way done and there is six months more to go. The anxiety comes from fighting tiny little cancer ghosts. The new mission has evolved into making sure that the cancer doesn’t come back.

Radiation also doesn't steal your hair. The difference 7 weeks makes....

Radiation also doesn’t steal your hair. The difference 7 weeks makes….

Last week (i.e. the cryptic thing I was waiting for), two things happened. First, I started radiation. Two of the six and a half weeks are now in the bag. So far, no side effects (yay). The daily trips to the cancer center are more of a time suck than a proverbial suck. Radiation, you are no chemo. Though, radiation has a one up on chemo in one aspect. Laying there for 30 minutes not moving a muscle, your mind wanders. I’m finding my busy mind is beyond existential. Shall we dissect the complexities of the universe every single morning? Super fun!

If only they stayed little....

If only they stayed little….

The other major event last week? I met with a genetic counselor. There in her tiny shoe box office, we outlined what it means to be BRCA1 positive (cancer gene). We discussed my risks (hello, the big one already happened), as well as the risks for my family. We now know from my results that one parent is BRCA1 positive. In all likeliness, it is my dad. That would be a positive thing because men have lower elevated risks than women with this sort of gene, not that I’m too happy about sharing this mutation with absolutely anyone else. Now the terrifying part, my sister and my children have a 50% chance of being gene carriers. And, because my girls are identical, if one is gene positive, the other is as well. I can’t even explain the fear associated with any of those three people having to experience an ounce of what I’ve been through.

The other part of our discussion, recurrence (the topic du jour these days). Because I am BRCA1 positive, my chances of having a secondary cancer are higher. I’m at elevated risk for ovarian cancer (prophylactic hysterectomy on the agenda), as well as secondary breast cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma. Add this to the fact that I had triple negative breast cancer, my recurrence rate is higher than most. (Queue insomnia)

But its not all bad news. Remember the new mission? Prevention. The multiple surgeries I am undergoing greatly decrease these statistics. Also, the amazing (may I say almost miraculous?) response the cancer had to chemo is a good indicator that no stray cells were left behind and it has not spread. Radiation is just the sunburnt flesh colored cherry on top. We are zapping the areas near and surrounding the cancer to make sure we are taking no chances.

I’m not sure the fear will ever truly subside. I find myself bargaining late night for just 16 more years, so that my death wouldn’t define my children’s story. But, that’s really foolish, not to mention morbid. Fear is one of the biggest long term side effects for cancer survivors, but I’m trying to find hope. Now is the time to “Be Still and Know…” It’s just not in my hands. I’m cancer-free. I’m a fighter. I’m standing in the sun. I’m going to go ahead and live my life and hope the shadows don’t follow me.

Stay in the sun....

Stay in the sun…. Always

My New “Four Letter” Word

Get ready because this post is going to be offensive. At least, it is to me.

I know many of you are waiting on an update (and I hear you I swear!).  Honestly, I’m waiting on something. As soon as I have it, you’ll know. (wow, that was unnecessarily cryptic).  But there is something that I feel I need to let go of into the universe, for my well-being and the happiness of those around me.

PINK. I know it’s a dirty word, right?! Oh you don’t think so? Well let me tell you, this October I have never found a word more offensive.  For those who don’t know, it is Breast Cancer AWARENESS month. And as a survivor, the pink is overwhelming. What I’m sure started out as an event with the best of intentions has become something of a mockery.  “Hey guys, to help support those with Breast Cancer let’s dress up and attend a fun event, or maybe we could Instagram a shot of the girls, maybe even buy all the pink merchandise we can find?”  This month has become nothing more than a sales pitch, a gimmick to make people feel like they are doing something.

The truth is…. you aren’t.  I’m not saying that the general population doesn’t have great intentions, it’s just that you have bought the hype about awareness. Can we just be honest for a minute, though? Who doesn’t know about Breast Cancer?  It’s not an under represented disease.  I find it almost unbelievable that I’m the only person any of you know that has had it.  We’ve all been touched by it, through a friend or family member.  It’s a deeply personal disease for so many.  So, do you think awareness promotions are helpful?  Do you know what awareness isn’t?  It is not prevention.  It does not mean a cure.  Most of all, awareness does not mean funded research.

The sad truth is that many of the charitable organizations supposed to be helping find a cure are doing far more to promote this “awareness” with fun runs and pink ribbon merchandise than making a difference (Susan G. Komen, I’m looking at you).  And the products you are buying… an imperceivable amount actually goes to these charities.  Who, again, use it to keep the brand going. So before you go buy your pink ribbon gear, think about how your money might be used in a better way.  I’ve linked a few awesome charities if you are looking for bang for that buck.

On a personal note, (and I know I don’t speak for all survivors) this month is horribly hard. The only awareness I have this month is of how every day I have to wake up and see another organization making a joke out of my plight (NFL now I’m looking at you).  I don’t want pink buckets of KFC, or head to toe gym gear.  I don’t need a pink ribbon mylar balloon (stupid, Publix).  I need people to think about how insensitive this parade of pink and over sexualized sayings make a girl who has lost so much feel.  I’m glad for you while you are waving around your proud pink bra. You get ’em, girl. Just remember, I haven’t been able to wear one since they amputated the second base you seem so desperate to “save”. But then again, I’d take “cancer free” over saving the tatas any day.

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Young Survival Coalition (helpful resource for women under 40)

MetaVivor (While 30% of cancer will metastasize (spread) only 2% of funding goes to it’s research)

Do you see that?

See that girl? The one laying there recovering? With the 5 o’clock shadow for hair and a drug induced coma?FullSizeRender

There is an endless party going in her dreams right now because… the pathology is in from the double mastectomy and lymph node removal.

Today (and technically a week ago) there was no evidence of cancer in any lymph nodes or left breast.  Chemo crushed that.  And the residual cancer cells (no longer even considered a tumor) in my right breast were completely wiped out from surgery.  There is no evidence of cancer.

Don’t pinch me. It’s no dream.  I’m cancer-free! I can’t believe it…. Today, I’m cancer-free.

Ready. Set. Fly!

So… It’s here.  Precisely 173 days in the making, tomorrow is surgery day (5:15 am to be exact).

Last weekly date night for awhile

Last weekly date night for awhile

I wish I could write you a blog post full of awesome thoughts and dark humor but… I’m absolutely exhausted from the prep stage and this brain just isn’t swinging around the wit the way it normally does.  So what CAN I tell you….

Conquering fears with my main mister

Conquering fears with my main mister

Well, for one, I am so ready.  There is no fear.  No regret.  No dread.  I remain steady in this decision.  The hardest part of preparing has not been at all mental and completely physical.  I’m the strongest I’ve been since we got the diagnosis. The chemo effects have completely gone from body.

High Ropes and Zip Lining... no prob

High Ropes and Zip Lining… no prob

Just to prove how tough I am (I suppose to myself and my Mr), I decided to tackle a fear.  Flying.  Okay, this fear hit more so on my heights issues but… but for arguments sake, we can consider zip lining a form of flying, no?  Either way, this is not something pre-cancer Ashley would have been demanding to experience.  But guess what, it was amazing!

High Ropes Course Domination

High Ropes Course Domination

The thing about fear is it holds you back.  I’m learning that fear (along with anxiety and doubt) just don’t have a place in my life anymore.  And… THAT is the biggest reason I have not second guessed my decisions in treatment, or approached them with anything other anticipation.  I’m telling you… the anticipation for those words are killing me.  Soon… “There is no evidence of cancer”.  Sweet Remission!

Stick, Scan, Doctor, Repeat.

Guys, I know it’s been awhile. (Deja vu?)  Yes.  I know, I usually start with some variation of that sentence but this time the delay was completely intentional.  Yes, seriously.  I’ve been super busy getting all my ducks in a row.  (I mean… I had no less than 6 appointments just this week!).  And now all the stats are in and I have so much to share.  But where to begin….

Eli is so helpful... always keeping my head warm!

Eli is so helpful… always keeping my head warm!

So last time we saw each other, we were celebrating my last chemo.  Irony of all irony, I’m currently sitting back in the infusion suite for “maintenance” as the staff here likes to call it.  Still no more chemo (yahoo!), but I still have to show up every three weeks for hormone receptors to help prevent reoccurrence.  So, does that mean I’m in chemo induced remission?

The bad news is… I’m not.  The good news is… I will be (most likely), in exactly 13 days.  The chemo did better than anyone could have ever expected.  The largest mass on my right side (8cm x 6cm, previously) is now down to just 1 centimeter.  And, the three masses on the left have shrunk to one measly 8 MILLIMETER lump.  On August 5th, we’ll finish them off for good.  Singing “Another One Bites the Dust” into the surgical suite,  I’ll be undergoing a bilateral modified radical mastectomy with reconstruction and auxiliary lymph node dissection on the left and a sentinel node biopsy on the right. (Click the links for more info).  Reconstruction will take at least two more surgeries after this one and probably won’t be completely finished until spring of next year.

We can also add one more surgery to that list because my genetic testing came back positive for the BRCA1 gene.  Did you know that only 12% of women get breast cancer, and of that 12% only 5% are connected to this gene.  Once again…. just proving how special I am… yay me! (Could you hear that eye roll?)  I’m choosing to undergo a prophylactic surgery to remove my ovaries.  Helloooooo menopause!  Thank God for my tiny people or this would have been the hardest decision of my entire life.

But back to the game plan, 5-10 weeks after surgery, I’ll have to undergo 6 weeks (5 days a week) of radiation.  Even though I expect to already be cancer free by this time, radiation will help ensure that any microscopic traces of the cancer cells are toast… literally.  Three months post radiation, we’ll start back on the reconstruction surgeries again.

So… now that we have all facts on the table, I guess you are wondering about “human Ashley “and less about the science experiment that has become my body.  The truth is… there is anxiety.  Of course there is!  But the stress seems to be stemming more from being overwhelmed about the time commitment that treatment will be demanding over the next several months. How do I maintain self and still do everything on the agenda?  It will be less of a balancing act and more like juggling.

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Look! It’s here! The hair is coming! The hair is coming!

That aside, I’m scary excited to start this process.  I’ve been waiting for this surgery since February.  Will I mourn my gals?  Well, honestly no.  The betrayal runs deep, y’all.  Adieu and good riddance you big old jerks!  But seriously, the price of remission (and staying that way) could never be too steep for me.  I know when I wake up, there will be some self image issues.  Let’s be real straight here.  I’m thicker than I’ve ever been in my entire life (let’s not count pregnancy, there were twins in there people!). The hair on my head could rival that of a newborn duckling.  Okay, I’m actually fascinated and thrilled about that… for now.  And now, I’m going to be flat as a teenage boy in two weeks.  We aren’t operating with the best proponents for confidence here.  But, I’ll deal with all that if (when?) it happens.

One year ago I would be ashamed of this stats but not too shabby for my first day back!

One year ago I would be ashamed of this stats but not too shabby for my first day back!

For now, I’m focusing hard on some of the things I can control.  Making 300 lists.  Making freezer meals.  And best of all, I’ve hit the gym hard.  Me and that sweet lover have been apart for far too long.  You better believe your sweet sassafras I’m going into this round strong as all get out.  My heart is ready.  My brain is mostly on board.  Now I’m just getting the body built up to once again get hit by a freight train.  Go ahead, knock me down.  I’ll always come back stronger.

Let Freedom Ring. No Mo Chemo!

Today may only be July 2nd, but this is my Independence Day! We just conquered chemo and I’m almost free from the chair!

Just showing the cancer center who is on top!

Just showing the cancer center who is on top!

Now, I’m sitting hooked to bag 3 of 4 and hoping and wishing and praying that this will truly be the last day I have to sit down and pump these poisonous drugs into my system.

You may be asking yourself?  Did we skip from treatment 4 to 6? Did I miss a post somewhere?

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C and G spinning in the cups

Snuck in some 4th Festivities on Saturday

Snuck in some 4th Festivities on Saturday

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B mean muggin’ on the Ferris Wheel she INSISTED on going on.

The answer is yes to the former and no to the latter.  Chemo round 5 was bad.  Really bad.  Symptoms that typically drop by on Saturday night/ Sunday morning made a sharp appearance on the Thursday night.  Then, they persisted for the next two weeks.  I just got my feet back underneath me to wake up from the chemo coma and discover it was that time again.  I’m sure this time will be no better but…. This is the last time I have to do it and that makes it all the more easy to sit here and press on.

So… today we conquered chemo, what is next?  Since I wrote you last, I’ve seen lots of doctors and have lots of information to share with you.  Next week we start the poking and prodding again.  Test after test will be ran to find out where we now stand pre-surgery.  Somewhere in the vicinity of the last week of July, I’ll be undergoing a double bilateral full mastectomy with a full lymph node removal on the left side and the first step of the reconstruction process.

I know that these two snugglers are ready to care of me.

I know that these two snugglers are ready to take care of me, which ever outcome.

Here is where the cancer get’s to play “choose your own adventure” after all the tests come back.  IF I am in chemo induced remission, we are done.  I’ll undergo the final two reconstruction surgeries and pray with each remission check up that this was just a blip in my 20s.  If there does happen to be cancer still hiding out in there, radiation will be on the agenda for an unknown amount of time and we may have to do another 8 week round of chemotherapy.  Both these paths will make reconstruction surgery further away and much more complex.  They’ll have to take muscles from my back to be placed into my chest.  Yes. Seriously.  The thing I wish the most right now is that the doctor could have waited a few more days to tell me about the chemo possibility because my Independence Day now has a dark cloud looming.

Honest to goodness, I FEEL it though.  I’m as sure as I can be that we are in remission. Even though the odds were not high, my oncologist continues to be shocked time and time again that every bump, lump and hardness has vanished.  If the cancer is still there, it is deep.  But even deeper, in my heart, I just feel like I won this battle, whatever the next step happens to be.  I am so excited, so grateful, so proud that we conquered chemo.  Happy Independence Day, y’all!

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No Mo Chemo! Adios Chair!

Where’d you go?

FullSizeRender_2PEEK-A-BOO!  Yep…. that’s pretty much how my days go….

Ok guys! I know… Naughty blogger.  It’s been almost a whole month.  It’s been busy…. and very sleepy (Is it bedtime yet?).  So lets start where we left off…

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My sleepy hero

Chemo Number 4.  Shew!  That was a rough one!  Unfortunately, this was also the round I told my mom she didn’t need to come and the mister he didn’t need to miss work by taking leave.  Wow was I a cocky little devil with that game plan.  Again, shows me for setting expectations.  Okay, yes.  I get it.  I got to stop thinking I know what’s happening because I have no idea what’s next!

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Two tinies celebrating two years

Thankfully, that round was violent but quick.  I felt good enough to plan a party for the tinys (can I get a hallelujah, Amazon Prime).  My tiny humans turned two on June 1st and I still can’t get over it.  Where did the time go?  I have to confess something. This year was so amazing that I think I couldn’t really help but get over chemo fast enough to celebrate.  Sure two is a great age and all (okay, I’m loving it, you caught me) but celebrating year one was laden with horrible PTSD style flashback memories of an overly traumatic delivery.  There was a fear that each year would bring back the memories good and bad (how selfish am I? Girl get over it).  I’m so grateful that was not the case.  Year two only brought nostalgia rather than vivid pangs from an anesthesia free abdominal butchering.  So why am I telling you this?  I honestly think it was the cancer that helped me let go of the anger and fear associated with event.  You just have to let it go…. LET IT GO!  LET IT GO! (oh no…. it’s in my head).

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My girls

The birthday party weekend was followed by an epic crash.  That pretty much tells me I was running on pure adrenaline trying to make sure the twins didn’t feel any birthday neglect thanks to this situation.  So again…. I fall into exhaustion.  And again…. I made an epic attempt to pull it together for the weekend.  I have these best friends.  I’ve known them since middle school.  And 5 of the 8 of us managed to sneak off to Tybee Island/ Savannah for the weekend.  BEST MEDICINE EVER.  To say these girls have been with me 147% through this entire ordeal would be such an understatement.  I’m glad they could finally see me because it hurts me to no end to think they worry.  I know they’ll still think about me, but… like I’ve said before, once you see me, it’s hard to treat me like I’m sick (Thank God! No one likes a pity party).

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The mister and me ready for a Savannah Date Night

And, because it’s been groundhog’s day for the last four months…. we are back to exhaustion.  Maybe I over did it this round.  But then again, the doctor told me to brace myself.  Apparently, round five and six are going to be real doozies.  This is about the time your immune system gives up and your body stops fighting the chemo and starts embracing it.  Got to earn it right?  But I really don’t care.  I can feel miserable for 30 straight days and I’ll be okay with it because we are precisely 22 days away from my last chemo.

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Juice cleanse to prep for next chemo round. I’m a bit juice addicted!

Fun fact though…. my doctor in passing mentions that I’ll still have to come in every three weeks for a year!  Whaaaat?!  Way to spring that on a girl!  Turns out, one of the hormone blockers has to be administered for an entire year.  The good news is there are no side effects, its a year from the start of chemo not the end, and infusions will only last 30 minutes.  The bad news…. this is the drug that requires monitoring of my heart because it can really damage it.  After that surprise, I was a little uncomfortable about any other “fun” new information.  But, the only other thing he told me was to get cracking on a surgeon.  Don’t have to tell me twice!  Appointment was Monday, by Tuesday morning my referral was already processing.   Hopefully, the next time I check in I’ll have all the details on my upcoming surgery.   Let’s shut this thing DOWN!  (you can’t see it but… there’s a party dance happening).

ps. How awesome is my family? So awesome!

Getting their walk on! #teamjordan!

Getting their walk on! #teamjordan!

The “Kick Chemo” Formula

So…it has been two weeks since I’ve posted.  And, guess what?  It wasn’t because I “disappeared” again.  It is because I’ve been really busy living!

Out on the town... Finally feeling comfortable in the faux hair

Out on the town… Finally feeling comfortable in the faux hair

Apprehensively, I approached my third round of chemo knowing full well that each round’s side effects were going to be progressively worse.  Turns out I should really stop assuming things.  This round was by far the easiest yet.  I think this had to do with several factors.  After round two was so terrible I made a commitment to do three things everyday; one productive, fun, and physical.  Having a focus to move each day helped me to not let the fog that comes consume me.  By Wednesday, the haze felt lighter and each task was easier to accomplish.

Having a degree in nutrition, it didn’t really take a brainstorm to realize the foods I have been eating weren’t helping matters.  Of course, there was counseling with a dietitian when we first began this process. And, of course, all that went straight out the window when reality set in.  Food is a constant battle.  Between dead taste buds and constant nausea, I was eating whatever I thought I could stomach.  Most of the foods were falling into a category of things I would never dream of eating before all this started, especially on a daily basis.  It was plain and simple.  Eat better.  Feel better.

There was one more thing that made a world of difference.  It sank in today as I watched my husband make a speech.  He was saying goodbye to yet another leadership position and a group of people he respects and loves (in his own alpha male macho man way, of course).  He said, “You take care of family.  You take care of family, first and foremost, and everything else will fall in line”.  I can say this is true because I saw it happen last week.

The day of chemotherapy, my mom, grandmother and cousin arrived to cheer this girl up.  I can tell you I held off the side effects a lot longer than I’ve been able to in the past.  I could feel the fight to cherish those moment.  The following week, my mom helped me keep up on those pesky goals I had set up for myself.  And, achieve we did.  I was feeling “alive” for a better lack of words when she departed Friday, a few hours shy of our friends’ arrival from Colorado.  I’ll say it again and again.  The military does not create friends.  It turns your friends into family.  I could not have been more blessed with the people taking care of me last round.  To them it may have seemed like visiting but for me… they were definitely renewing my spirit and nurturing that motivation I’ve been desperately clinging too.  Everything just fell into place.

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Summer is here and we are soaking it up

I am more hopeful than I have been in a long time.  The next round of chemo doesn’t seem to hold the threat that seemed to hover over the previous rounds.  Better still, my guests have given me a gift.  They may not have said it but I could see the relief.  My visitors were thinking they were going to walk into the house and see a different version of me.  A sick, weak Ashley who was struggling through but painting on a brave face.  I keep telling people “I’m not sick. I just have cancer”.  Through their eyes, I know I really am still just me.  I’m not trying to fool anyone.  I wish I could see you all so you could see it too.  Maybe then you’d know… Cancer ain’t got nothing on me!  How’s that for some motivation?

Meet Me Halfway?

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Round 3… Ding Ding!

Last night, the night before chemo, I once again couldn’t sleep.  Between the steroids and the impending day ahead, my mind runs while my body lays ready for sleep.  If you know me, you’d know there is a constant song running through my head (thus the spontaneous dancing that bursts out on occasion).  Last night heavily featured techno beats and the Black Eyed Peas singing “Meet me half way…..” on repeat.  Normally, this song conjures up memories a Greek vacation with a group of guys I’ve been lucky enough to have as friends who have become family.  And, of course, it still did because well… that was the soundtrack of an awesome long ago memory.  But, the song was firmly stuck for other reasons too.  Today, is the halfway mark into this chemo battle, and I’m walking into this final half with the most amazing prognosis one can possibly have, I’ll soon be in remission.  My body was humming with the excitement of knowing how far we’ve come.  Then it came to me, I think I’m halfway between who I was and who I’m going to be, and that is a very real struggle.

Being the middle of the night, I became introspective as the tune hummed on.   The sentiments of my last post had me feeling off.  As predicted, I instantly felt lighter of heart once I hit the publish button and the clouds cleared.  I don’t regret writing it because it was honest and I always try to be honest with you.  But, I now feel foolish for having such a deeply held funk in my spirit.  For the previous week, the words superficial, petty, and victim come into mind.  It is my deep hope that I am truly none of those things.  I hate the word victim most of all and I hate that I let a mood shade my amazing news.

Just sitting here in the chemo room was a big wake up call.  The people here are so much sicker than I am.  I assume many of them won’t see the words remission on their charts.  And here I was, not celebrating properly that we’ve come so far in a short time. The day after I found out the good news, a stranger I began following on social media saw the end of her battle.  It was hard.  She was close to my age and as a stage 4 diagnosed, she was never given hope of remission.  I immediately regretted everything.  Though this life is hard, it is wonderful.  I have been gifted with another life.  The girl I used to be is barely recognizable, and I miss her slightly.  There are a few parts of her I’ll hold on to (the rowdy and carefree parts), but a lot of her will disappear because the truth is…. she was just a girl and this was a wake up call.  Time to grow. Time to get stronger.  Time to stop with consuming anxiety and sweating the small stuff.  So much has changed in these three short months.  This woman that is evolving is one I can truly embrace.

Ashley the Riveter in action

Ashley the Riveter in action

So for round 3 of chemotherapy, I came dressed as my spirit animal, the quintessential woman.  Rosie.  And you know what… I CAN do this. We can do this. We are winning guys!  I won’t let the clouds back in, promise.  There is so much to be thankful for, we don’t have time to be bogged down with all the temporary.  Side effects.  Hibernation.  Lost time.  Physical appearance.  Say a few quick prayers for me.  Pray for steel in my spine, forgiveness for myself in my heart (for when I stumble), and a brief stint hiding in my burrow this round.  Reinforcements are already on the way to help.