Mar 3, 2009
We got walloped with snow Sunday night/Monday morning. It was so pretty coming down and looked amazing blanketing everything in white and silence. But even though winter is still showing its face... I'm feeling like spring over here.
Spring is my FAVORITE season of the year. Partially because I was born in the spring, but also because I just love seeing everything come alive after the hibernation period of winter.
I feel like I've been hibernating all winter myself. And now... I'm feeling like springtime over here. Like... in just a few more days or weeks... I'll be all brand new and shiny again.
My hair has started to sprout and my nails are trying to do their thing too. My energy is a little higher and I generally just feel pretty good.
I have noticed a few differences lately -- like I've been eating like a pig these past couple of days and I'm a little crabby -- but I'm wondering if its my pms making a return (which contrary to how it sounds would be good news actually). We'll see in awhile if that's what's going on.
Well... let me warn ya now... my birthday is coming up. And its a BIGGIE. So... by the time April rolls around you can expect me to be really rather obnoxious about it. If birthday celebrations aren't your thing, I'm going to give you time to turn away now. :)
The birthdate is May 1st.
That's about all for now... I don't feel like complaining about all the aches and pains. I've got some really pretty tulips to look at... spring is on its way!!
Feb 26, 2009
Anywhooo... I came across a poem I wrote to my mother a few years ago.
I used to belong to an on-line poetry group called the PoetsNiche. It was an amazing experience for me. In that group, we would share work that we had written to get feedback and critiques from other poets in the group. In the preface to the poem I wrote for my mom, I wrote that I was inspired to memorialize what she meant to me because of a breast cancer scare. (freaky, right?)
Reading that poem tonight really brought tears to my eyes. I remember when she told me that she had to have a biopsy on a small lump that she found in her breast. I was sooo scared. I mean totally freaked out. Of course reading that poem tonight brought me full circle emotionally. I still feel the same way -- my momma is the bomb! But even more so because she is so faithful in her love for me, her willingness to do for me, to help me. Before this post gets too long, too mushy... I'll just share the poem with you guys.
I'm sure that many of you love your mommas like I love mine... I just had to share this love tonight. It has increased 10-fold since I wrote this.
A letter to my momma
The memories of us
Laughing and crying
Talking and cooking
Listening and loving
Even fussing and fighting
Drive me to excel
You`ve always been there
When I needed you
And even when I thought I was grown
You were my first teacher
My first disciplinarian
You carried me...
Those times I didn`t know
How to carry myself
By watching you I learned
That sexy isn`t slutty
That parents can be friends
That love requires work
And that family means everything
You taught me
To keep my head high
To walk with elegance
And not be ashamed of my gifts
Or my beauty
You let me
make my own decisions
So many times that
I thought everyone would give me that option
Now I know I have to earn respect from the world
Just as I earned it from you
Because of your love
I found God for myself
And you accepted my choice
As my own
Your food fed my body
Your love fed my soul
Your trust fed my spirit
Your abilities made me whole
I know that our forever together
Will someday come to a close
But I need to let you know
That I thank God for you
And I thank you for me
I love you mommy...
Your favorite friend
And only daughter
) Nicole McLean2001
Feb 19, 2009
Let me tell you about my new gross experience.
Another fingernail came off last night. (shaking my head) I just don't know if I'm ever going to get used to this. And its only been 2 nails so far -- that means that I have to go through this crap 8 more times. Dang. So I was sitting in the tub -- getting my Epsom salt soak on. I was actually trying not to get my hands wet for too long because each finger is in a different level of peeling off and I was worried about getting water trapped between the nails and my naked nail bed. But I did need the finger nails to soften a bit so I could clip them down (I have to keep them clipped very close so that they don't snag on anything or scratch me). At any rate, when I was towelling dry -- I felt this pinch/tug on my right index finger. And bam! there it was... my poor little fingernail hanging on to the side of my finger. Looking right pitiful if I must say. I clipped it off and studied the finger for awhile. Like my right thumb nail, the nail underneath had only grown out to cover half of the nail bed. (shaking my head again)
All of my nails are in bad shape. Only 6 of them are so bad that they require daily/constant bandages so that I can function. I have one fingernail that is really trying to come off but the nail underneath ain't ready and its holding on to the sides of my finger rather fiercely. That sucka hurts! Man... its funny to me that I pop tylenol because my fingers hurt. I mean... seriously? Dang. Anyhoo... that's the latest gross-ness.
My peachfuzz on my scalp is still coming in. I'm excited. Its a bit patchy but shooot... I do not care. I can recall the horror I felt when I first started going to the cancer center for chemo. Looking around at the stages of baldness that some of the women were going through was frightening. I even told my girlfriend Tiffani that it would be her job to make sure that I never looked like this one patient I named "Tweety Bird". This poor lady (and she was so very nice)... had this really odd cotton-candy-ish bush on her head. It looked crazy. I mean... CA-RA-ZEEEE! Her 'fro needed some real attention. But she seemed real cool with it. I could not understand it for the life of me.
I started this journey fiercely determined not to lose myself, not to become "one of them" -- the "cancer victims". I was gonna stay fly, stay happy, stay me... no matter what.
I think that lasted through maybe 2 rounds of chemo and then suddenly I didn't have enough energy to care. I knew I wasn't looking as cute as I believe I am -- but there really was nothing I could do about it. Y'all remember how I fretted about wearing a wig? I still haven't worn one in public yet. I can only keep one on my head at home for about 1 minute. Wigs are so hot... I dunno how I'm going to make it y'all. I mean, looking at my fuzzy scalp right now, I can envision some real raggedy days ahead. I will be returning to work soon and I don't think I'll be able to tolerate the stares of strangers in the regular world. (that would be the world NOT affiliated with GW Hospital...lol)
I'll keep you posted about what I decide to do about this scalp of mine. I want to see what my hair looks like when it grows back. But I have to figure out how to keep it cute in the meantime.
Before I go... I have to share that I bought a book from amazon (well, actually 3 books) that I highly recommend to anyone going through this. The first is actually a book for breast cancer husbands (boyfriends, partners, etc.) and it is written by a man who's wife had breast cancer. I've been struggling to understand how the men in my life are dealing with my illness. I know that for my dad it is really hard. I can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I know that its hard for my cousins and my godbrother and really hard on my boyfriend. I know its hard for my male buddies too. I do not speak "man-language" very well at all. I can hear what they say but have no idea what they mean. So, when I was looking for books last weekend, this one really stood out for me. I just started the book and already its really interesting and helpful.
The name of the book is "Breast Cancer Husband: How to help your wife (and yourself) through diagnosis, treatment and beyond" http://www.breastcancerhusband.com/. Here's the amazon link .
If you are a guy with a wife, sister, daughter, girlfriend, etc. who has been diagnosed with breast cancer -- get this book. It is well-written, direct and to the point. Its not sappy (not a girlie book in anyway) and you may find it interesting. Now, if you're a woman with breast cancer or have a woman close to you with it -- pick up this book to understand what the men in your life are dealing with.
Its hard on them too. And while I knew that, I think that I forgot that for a little while. Its hard to have cancer. But its got to be harder to love someone with cancer. As helpless as I feel... I can only imagine that its 100x worse for the men in my life. But I'm gonna read this book this weekend and try to get a better understanding of what they are feeling (if I can) and I'll pass it on if any of the men in my life want to read this. (I suspect though, that none of them will have the time or the inclination to do so...lol)
The second book is a book of exercises and stretches and the final book is a cancer devotional. I know... seems strange. But cancer is such a common disease that two Christian women -- both cancer survivors -- decided that a book of devotions (with scriptures) was missing from the vast marketplace of books on cancer. And so far, they were right.
Praying through cancer: Set your heart free from fear by Susan Sorensen and Laura Geist
Recovering from breast surgery: exercises to strengthen your body and relieve pain
That last book is wonderful because my left arm is still not as mobile as it was prior to my surgery. I wish someone had recommended it to me BEFORE I had surgery. But, I have it now and I'll be doing my exercises to get my arm back. :)
That's it for tonight.
Feb 16, 2009
I have had three days without going to the doctor. Woohoo! A very very tiny thing but a beautiful mercy for me. With my dad out of town for the weekend, my mom did not cook. Woohoo! Another mercy for me.
Let me clarify... my mother is a great cook but honestly, most days I could really survive (and be happy too) with a bowl of cereal or a grilled cheese sandwich. My appetite just isn't what it used to be. So, three days where I could indulge in sandwiches, hot dogs, cereal, pancakes... was beautiful. (reminded me of living alone... where you ate what you wanted, when you wanted and NOBODY said a word to you -- that is a good feeling y'all) I miss living alone. :)
I didn't do anything spectacular this weekend. Pouted a bit like I said -- I have to say that I absolutely DETEST spending Valentine's day alone. I know that many people don't like the holiday, don't believe in it and all that but I love it because I love what it stands for. Yes, it may be a "made up" holiday but seriously... they all are. Someone at some point in time decided that it was a good idea to honor a specific concept or person and then they convinced others of the importance of this celebratory honor until... tada! We have a holiday. What frustrates me about all the Valentine's day backlash is the absurd belief that you can only celebrate the day by spending tons of money and/or being commercial with your expression. Hello?? You can do whatever you want -- its about you and your special loved one(s) and no one else. Just like you have the option to create the type of Christmas (if you celebrate) you want -- you can design your own Valentine's day celebration. SIGH... unless the person/people you want to celebrate with refuse to. Then... you're in my boat. Excited but alone. By the way... I'm the only person at my house who loves Valentine's day. My parents could not care less.
I meant to order myself some flowers but I could not make a decision on a bouquet that I liked so... I ordered some books and a few dvds from amazon.com instead. I spent the weekend watching sappy love stories and embracing all the corny stuff that I love about Valentine's day. It was cool. Helped me to release some of my frustration about being alone, and being home. I think next year I will take myself on a trip or a cruise -- and not even deal with the notion of expecting someone to enjoy and embrace what I love about the "love" holiday.
I've been listening to Donnie McClurkin for the past couple of days. Great is your mercy towards me... has been a balm to my restless spirit this weekend. One of the things I'm really hating/loathing/despising about cancer is how it makes me feel so weak. That weakness has challenged my faith. I know God is a healer. I know that God can do all things. Yet... I have cancer. Maybe its because I don't understand "why" I have cancer, that I feel so slightly removed from God. I don't doubt that He loves me, I just don't understand this trial. It could be worse, I know. But it could also be so much better. (been digging up some Sam Cooke too) I have complained and whined and danced and cried and fretted and smiled... through this whole process. But no matter how sad I may be at any given moment, God has been so merciful towards me and my family and I am grateful for that.
Tomorrow I resume my radiation treatment and I'm going to work on stretching my left arm more today so that its not quite as tight. I found some books on stretching and exercises for breast cancer patients so I'm looking forward to working out the kinks and getting myself together. I am ready to go back to work, to get back out in the world again. I'm planning to go to Miami in May to celebrate my birthday and I want to start looking for vacation clothing. I am really hoping that nothing comes up that keeps me from celebrating my birthday with this trip.
I feel the urge for a bowl of honey nut cheerios... woo hoo!! Little things, make me so happy. I will definitely take that lesson with me after this ordeal is over. Being single has often felt like a curse but being unable to do what you want, move as you please has definitely shown me that being single is a major blessing...
Great is your mercy towards me
Your loving kindness towards me
Your tender mercies I seek
Day after day...
Forever faithful towards me
Always providing for me
Great is your mercy towards me
Great is your grace...
Feb 14, 2009
When I went to see my surgeon the other day, I mentioned the lack of mobility of my arm and he referred me to a physical therapist.
I simply DO NOT WANT TO GO TO ONE MORE DAMN DOCTOR.
First of all... I can't even imagine when I could make it happen. I go to radiation treatment EVERY DAY in the middle of the day. Every third week, I have my herceptin infusion -- that takes about 2 hours or so. Right now, having cancer is like my full-time job. I haven't called the therapist yet because I swear I just can't imagine trying to squeeze one more damn thing on my calendar but... not being able to lift my arm above my head without wincing is not going to work.
Let's talk about some good changes...
1. The skin on the palms of my hands and the bottom of my feet has returned to his normal color. (yay!!) I no longer look like some kid colored me and failed to switch crayons. :) I just realized the other day that my palms look the way they used to. My feet aren't totally back but they are well on their way.
2. I have fuzz on my scalp. I can't really say that I have hair because it really is fuzz and you have to look really closely to even notice it. But I have FUZZ! (yay!!)
3. My tastebuds are back. I can eat whatever I want and taste all of it. I can even drink some liquor and its cool. :) (yay!)
4. My eyebrows -- well, that's interesting -- they are filling in. Its weird because my eyebrows actually held on all through my chemotherapy. They stayed in shape and looked pretty good actually. But since my fuzz started coming in -- so has some fuzz on my eyebrows and it seems to have pushed out my dark eyebrow hairs. (I'm not describing this well...) Its very faint there now -- and my natural eyebrows have no shape at all so I'm not quite sure what to do. I can't arch them yet -- not enough hair -- but they are going to look real scraggly very soon. All in all, its a good sign to see some hair growth there.
5. My scar has pretty much healed. That is also a little interesting. It looks weird and it feels weird. I have this odd lump under my arm that my surgeon says is normal but I don't quite get it. He told me to expect more changes with my breast, some changes from the natural healing process and some changes from the radiation treatments.
I can see changes in my body... and although I am still dealing with various chemotherapy side effects, like my nails falling off/lifting off my nailbeds... the small positive changes are good. My energy is better but definitely not great. I think I will have to figure out how to start exercising a little bit because I need my energy to come up very soon. I want my life back and I can't get it from my bed. :)
I'm still dropping pounds, which bothers me. Not that I can't afford to lose some weight but because now I'm afraid of losing my belly. (how's that for a hoot?) My new breast will be crafted from my belly fat (so amazing) but if I lose the belly fat then I'll probably have to get an implant. And I really don't want that. I don't have a huge appetite right now, so when I do eat, I make sure to eat high calorie foods. Lucky girl I am.
I got a copy of the pathology report from my surgery the other day and it has really given me the blues. One, I don't fully understand it. Two, the technician who completed it called my skin "wrinkled tan brown skin" which for some unknown reason has annoyed me deeply. Of course its wrinkled, its no longer on my body... ugh. Three, there's no mention of cancer anywhere on the report. And while that is a good thing, I keep having this reccuring thought that this whole cancer deal was a big mistake. So, I need to see in black and white somewhere that YES, Nicole Valencia had cancer. Well, I take that back, there is one mention on this report but that's all. And that's in my lymph nodes -- it mentions no carcinoma found.
The report mentions some large white (I think) fibrous masses in my breast tissue but it says nothing about cancer in those masses. I am assuming that those were the tumors but I don't know that they were and I don't understand why they were still there if the chemotherapy did its job. I am taking my copy of the report with me to my chemo/infusion appointment on Tuesday so I can harass my oncologist to explain to me exactly what happened in my body. I thought that when they told me that the chemotherapy shrunk my tumors that they disappeared. But if the path report shows fibrous masses, I want to know what they are.
I am still having difficulty believing that I am going through any of this. I know that may seem weird but honestly, even though I've been through so much these past few months... none of this seems real. I still feel like I'm sleepwalking, dreaming or fantasizing. I mean, I'm me... I can't have cancer. But I do. And I have the bills to prove it.
There is so much life I still want to experience and I am hopeful that once all of this is over, I can get back to it. Like buying my first house, having (or adopting a child)... maybe I'll find a husband in all of the madness too. Or maybe I'll just get a cat and try to make that work for me as a love outlet. :) I still want to go to South Africa (and maybe even look for a job there too, I dunno).
Oh!! I just realized that my subject line doesn't make sense. Haha. I have to tell you that when I'm in radiation (at least these past two times) the technicians/therapists keep drawing on me. They have used about three or four different markers on my skin... drawing lines and dots on my neck, breast, tummy... its the weirdest thing to me. I meant to ask them today if they plan to write on my body every visit. Not that it really matters I suppose, if washing off magic marker everyday is part of the process -- I suppose I'll handle that too. But wow... they keep writing on me. (gas face)
Constant, yet small indignities...
I need some flowers in my life. I think I'll order myself some roses to cheer me up.
Have a happy valentine's day everybody. I'm spending mine stretching out my arm and hoping that my mood lightens. How are you spending yours?
Feb 6, 2009
I'm feeling that way because last night, I nearly pulled off two fingernails in my sheets, while I was tossing and turning trying to sleep. My insomnia is back... and the hot flashes are still here... so my nights are really long. All of which combine to make Nic a bit of an emotional wreck these days.
Today was the planning visit for my radiation therapy. Basically, today they lined me up in the machine, marked and tattooed my body for the areas that they will radiate over the next two months. It wasn't painful -- well, except for having to hold my left arm over my head at an awkward angle. My range of motion is seriously limited since the surgery so, that was unpleasant but generally it wasn't so bad.
So... tell me why I cried through the whole process? The therapist thought I was in pain because my eyes were leaking... when it was just a build up of frustration I think. I didn't sleep much last night -- maybe an hour or so total (and that was stretched over the whole night, 20 mins here and there).
I am so tired of being sick. Of going to the doctor. Of being shoved into machines. Of wearing those tired gowns with the back open. I'm tired of showing all my goodies to the world -- so much so that I don't even blink anymore when a room full of people look at my bare chest. (shrug) I just don't care anymore. I am tired of prescription bottles and sweating all night. I'm tired of staring in mirrors so hard -- looking, wishing, hoping that I'm really seeing some hair growth. I'm tired of being so physically tired. Having no energy, barely able to walk down a hallway without getting winded. I'm tired of looking at my own walls all day every day. Hell... I'm even tired of cold weather. :)
I know that this is something I have to go through and I'm grateful that my illness wasn't worse. I'm not looking forward to going through surgery again for my breast reconstruction. But I really don't think I could go through the rest of my life with one breast. It really doesn't bother me too much right now to have one breast -- because things are still bandaged and stitched together... I'm still healing. But once these stitches dissolve/fall away... once my range of motion comes back (with exercise I learned today...) looking at that scar (the way it is today) would probably keep me in an emotional place that I don't think I will want to stay in. For that, I'm hopeful that the reconstruction will assist me in moving forward with my life.
I will always think of cancer, think of these days and months a certain way. But I won't always look like I look today. And I'm hoping that not looking a certain way will go a long way toward helping me feel whole -- and not like some science fiction creature that was created from two things. Like the fly was... half man, half insect. I'm feeling half woman, half illness.
I'm still not ready for a support group. Not quite yet. But I will probably be more ready once I've begun to push cancer farther into my background than it is today.
How am I feeling? Weird, to tell the truth. Mostly I can't really "feel" that I don't have a left breast anymore. Until I try to lay on my left side at night and the soreness reminds me that things are different. Emotionally, I'm still a mess sometimes. As the feeling comes back to the surgery area, its bringing a lot of emotions with it. At first, I didn't cry at all after the surgery. It was a very blank feeling afterwards. But a couple of days ago... the tears started to fall again. Just as little twinges of pain reminded me that I'm healing on the inside; a few tears reminded me that the emotional part of me is transforming too.
I miss parts of my life that I hope I can get back when I'm back up to speed. I miss coming and going as I please. I miss hanging out, going to nice restaurants, taking trips and so forth. I realized just how much of my life I took for granted -- ALL OF IT (including my fingernails) -- and I'm praying that I don't ever forget what any of this feels like. I mean, your fingernail are important. But who thinks of that when they are saying their prayers?
All in all... I guess I'm doing alright considering. Everyday is a new challenge and I'm just learning to go with the flow.