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    You can find all kinds of information on the web, and in your doctor’s office, about what chemicals you are being treated with and what they might do to you.

    Chemotherapy at first struck dread into me, thinking about what it would do to my body.  I wanted to do the things I had always done, to try to minimize the harm and keep my body in balance throughout, at least as much as I could.

    Wrong!

    Chemotherapy is a wild, crazy wave, and my job was to ride the crest of it until it broke.  Certainly I wanted to protect my healthy cells, but I wanted those chemicals to knock the %*@!! out of the cancer that was threatening my life.  It was a battle for control of my body.  It was a game of chicken between those purple ewoks and wookies and the angry little bald man.  My body was the stage for this drama.  Never mind balance, that didn’t apply here!

    I understood that uninterrupted treatment was the key to my survival.  By the fourth infusion, I finally understood that to stay on that wave I had to be as comfortable as possible.  Steroids with the infusion, ativan at night.  Pain killers, anti nausea medicine, laxatives, stool softeners, all my normal bodily functions had to be slapped around to keep me on that wave.  I had a vicious cancer, and one delayed treatment for whatever reason would give it a chance to bounce back.

    When I finally understood that this was the way of it, my strategy became very clear.  Stay on the crest of that wave, don’t fall off, support my body under the onslaught, and let every ounce of energy I had be harnessed to assist the treatment.

    The first big breakthrough was, pain and discomfort leads to stress, which weakens the body more.  By the fourth infusion I was taking all the meds they gave me, at the first hint that I might need them.  The more comfortable I was, the more my body could use the energy I had to fight the beast.

    I conserved my energy for the same reason.  I did things I loved, like walking, improv, reading, puttering outside.  Things that were an energy drain I declined, and people who were toxic to me I kept out of my space, sometimes with help from others.

    I said yes constantly, as I have discussed in another post.  When people wanted to pray, bring food, take care of my children, or tidy my home, I welcomed it all.  I also said no, just as consistently, to anything that would use my precious, limited energy for something that was not important to me.  Saying yes opened my heart.  Saying no taught me to trust myself.

    I used complementary therapies to minimize side effects, and to protect my healthy cells as much as I could.  I used imagery to protect my heart, to watch the tumors shrink, to build white blood cells and hemoglobin.  I never had to miss a treatment because of low blood counts.

    Dr. Brown told me to “eat what looks good to you” and I did that.  I also developed my once a day nutrition shake to make sure all the bases were covered.

    I took advantage of every resource.  My colleagues gave me massage weekly (I remain so grateful for this!), I received acupuncture, and I had a Healing Partner who provided Healing Touch for me every week for 6 months.

    I wanted to be sure I was really showing up for all this.  I wanted my whole being to know that I was engaged in my life, that I was passionate about it.  I took advantage of the counseling that was available at Healing with Hope.  I blogged like mad at Caringbridge, and celebrated life.  I painted my room purple.

    Do you have to do all this to weather the chemo storm?

    No, not at all.  Do it the way you do it.  Just keep three things in mind, if they seem good to you.

    1. Use all the medications they give you to be comfortable.  This is not the time to be stoic!  A comfortable body heals better and faster.

    2.  Do the things you really love with the energy you have.  That way you actually get some.

    3.  Let people help.  It blesses them just as much as it blesses you, if not even more.

    If this is you right now, know that my thoughts are with you, and you will get through it!

    Thursday, April 12, 2007 10:35 AM, CDT

    Things are looking up! Today is better in general, because I got a really great sleep last night. Amazing how the busy little people dont encourage sleep. They don’t want to go to bed, but they’re ready to go bright and early. I slept in this morning, what a joy!

    Neulasta at 10:00, ONLY HALF, HOORAY! The neulasta is what causes the most misery to me. It’s a growth hormone, and it gives my bone marrow orders to crank out large quantities of white blood cells. The day I get the shot I feel all kinds of churning going on in there, and then my bones start to hurt. By the next day I feel as if I’m made of lead.

    This time I’m ready with everything I need to stay comfortable. I have been very resistant to taking all the medicine I am given for side effects, because I’m just not a medication person… I like to try to get things in balance first, and then try meds. I’ve had to turn that upside down and get proactive. I went through the list with Grace (Dr. Brown’s assistant) and I’ll take what I need in full, before I’m miserable.

    Maybe I’ll just sail through this one!

    It’s a beautiful day. I think I’ll play in the garden a little, after I have some on Donna’s delicious quiche for lunch. Donna, I was so motivated I ate two pieces last night! Thanks again, so much.

    Now there are some photos, courtesy of Steve mostly. I gave him my password and carte blanche to put what he likes on there. I haven’t deleted anything yet… thanks Steve!

    On to a quiet day, no need to push myself at all, just try and be comfortable and be grateful that my side effects can be managed. The less I resist it, the easier it is.

    That timely reminder came from my Uncle Dave, my father’s brother. My dad fought cancer and lost, many years ago, when he was 44. He had a vicious lymphoma that had metastasized by the time he was diagnosed. Dave has been in closer contact with me lately, in my court 100%. He’s a recoverd alcoholic with 20 years’ sobriety behind him, and quite a resource on putting one foot in front of the other.

    I told him that gratitude is what keeps me going, day after day. I asked him if this one of the things that kept him sober. He responded, yes indeed, and the other thing is acceptance. Good words. One can waste so much energy fighting what is! I am learning to conserve my energy to use to heal myself. It is frustrating to be weak and sick, but it’s what is right now. I accept it as neccessary to send my cancer away for good.

    Peace to all, and thanks. It’s going to be a decent day. A decent day during a round of chemo is a fabulous thing.

    Love, E

    Current time Postscript:

    This was in fact the easiest infusion for me, and the ones after were also easier in general although the cumulative effects of the chemotherapy got worse.  There’s a science to this!  More tomorrow….

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    Here is the continuation of last Saturday’s post. As you can see, there was a crash!

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007 5:45 PM, CDT

    later….

    blech, blech, blech. Thanks mom, for letting me bellyache and whine when it gets miserable. This one came on top of the first 3 with a cold and some antibiotics for good measure… I feel truly rotten. I keep telling myself, it’s the last of this one!

    I hope Steve is right, that since the bad part started sooner, maybe it will be over sooner, especially since I may have a less fierce shot tomorrow, and I don’t have my energetic little sidekicks to take care of.

    Thanks so much for caring, everyone. I’m going to take my weepy little self to the sofa, and…

    just got the knock, dinner arrived, thank you Donna, you have no idea what a difference this makes. I have to eat to make the nausea subside, but it’s hard to get motivated. Thank you! I look forward to seeing what’s in the bag.

    And in the mailbox, Becky’s weekly “healing card”. Oh Becky, your timing is impeccable.

    one day at a time…

    E

    Postscript, present time:
    This fourth infusion was in fact the second worst(!), but it was bearable with help. I look back on it and wonder where I would have been without all the wonderful people who helped me. Healing cards once a week like clockwork, others managing my energetic children, food appearing at my door…I often wondered during those times what people did who didn’t have people to help them.

    After this experience I had a new appreciation of how we humans really do need each other, and for how much a difference something that seems small can make.
    The thing that amazed me most of all was that I didn’t have to organize or delegate at all. People did what they were moved to do, and each time it was perfect.

    Now when I am in a situation where I could help someone, I ask, and if they let me, I do.

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    Wow, what a long strange trip it’s been!

    I started the Caringbridge site when I was just about halfway through my four months of chemotherapy.  I wish I had begun much sooner.  Blogging helped me through, but more importantly, I didn’t have to talk on the phone to wellwishers while I felt rotten, and I didn’t feel guilty about it because I knew they could check up on me.  On those days when I felt really abysmal, I would look through all the good words in my guestbook and feel better!  Since that first blog, I posted 408 entries totalling 136 pages.  Most of these were written before 2009.  I also had over 15,000 visitors.  Now that’s support!  You can find the link to Caringbridge to the right of the page.  It’s super easy, it’s free, and if you’re walking the tough path right now, it will help you in more ways than you know.

    So here’s a bit of history from the archives.  I’ll publish the good ones as I go through my old journals.  I’m getting ready to shut down that site, to make way for someone who really needs it.

    April 11, 2007

    Well folks, it’s full speed ahead!

    My white blood cell counts are so good that Tim (nurse) is going to ask Dr. Brown about cutting my neulasta shot dose, which will make this round easier for me. Huzzah, 4 of 4 down!

    Today is wierd Wednesday. I always feel strange on Day 1, kind of racy and disoriented, running hot and cold, just odd. But it’s not bad, just disorienting. By Friday I feel rotten, but this time maybe not so bad if the shot is not full strength.

    The infusion went fine. I was blue at first, annoyed that I have to deal with a cold on top of chemo, but then my ray of sunshine arrived (Flo, of course) bearing Jamba Juice, a sweet, buttery goodie and a big smile. That made things better! It got better still. I made a new friend, Avis, who came in for her infusion, took the chair next to mine and beamed at me the way I like to beam at people. She had a friend visit too, and the four of us passed the time in very good spirits. It even got a little bawdy…the topic of breast reconstruction set that off… where else do people have a good laugh about that stuff?

    Laughter gets me through… Thanks Avis and Company, thanks Terry (my impov teacher) who said, “It’s so hard when your body feels so bad, but your heart is so wide open!” So true, and she knows. She went through it four years ago. I feel this opening getting wider every day,opening into full flower like the intoxicating roses in my garden.  Thanks Steve, for making me laugh this morning, and putting the picture on my website. Thanks Cindy, for the yummy lentil soup I’ll be noshing on while I’m hunkered down these next few days. And thanks Terry, for the Trader Joe’s run today for the stuff I forgot!

    So now I settle in and take care of myself. My only job at this moment is to rest, heal, get well…thank you all for your prayers and good wishes. I truly could not do it without you!

    Love,

    Elizabeth

    Current time postscript:  neulasta was the stuff that you get to instruct your bones to make more white blood cells, so your counts don’t get low.  It made my bones hurt, a lot. I used guided imagery to tell my bones to produce white blood cells, so I ended up getting half the neulasta.  That fourth infusion was much easier.

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