Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Update: Finished treatment September 2016

It's been a month since my last radiation treatment and I guess I'm finally coming around to posting about it (kind of tells you how busy life has been). First of all HOORAY to be DONE! We've all been waiting for the fall season to be here when I would be complete with my cancer treatments.  I had a hard time accepting this because I am annoyingly stage 4 and I had this constant nagging reminder of treatment for life you'll never be done, Lisa! A few weeks ago I was playing the piano in our home. Little Violet was puttering around dancing and hitting the keys and I was playing music from the Primary Children's Songbook. I was struck with a thought/revelation. It was so overwhelming and powerful.

See, I was understandably carrying a burden I didn't know what to do with. I was doing well, but still living with metastatic breast cancer, My life stopped and I was face to face with my own mortality. How do I live with this disease? The unknowns? How do I be happy to be done with treatment, knowing it technically isn't over? What I felt that day was I didn't need to worry about being stage 4. I don't need to focus on that part right now. It sounds simple, but it was a big moment for me. I had to really let go of those fears. I decided right then to not live in more fear than I need to. I now have freedom to experience joy and be happy. What a liberating feeling! I'm focusing on becoming healthy and doing everything that I've always wanted to do in my life. So grateful to be alive, but more importantly so grateful to feel JOY. Because I fought so hard to live, I now have a different perspective on life and that is truly a gift.

I want to update everyone on what is going on from here on out. First of all, radiation was exhausting both physically and mentally and I think it's going to take a long time to recover.  Matt's parents came over everyday for my 6 weeks of radiation, my mother-in-law would stay with the kids and do whatever was needed at home (I just wanted her to love up on the kids and play with them) and my father-in-law drove me the 40 minutes to the hospital. Some days I had other appointments, but most days it was just my 20 minute radiation appointment. Then he'd drive me back home and based on how I felt that day they would stay or I would want to take over and attempt at motherhood. I'm so grateful to have had them by our side everyday for so many months. A lot of people don't have that kind of support, I don't take it for granted. My kids benefited the most, having gotten so much closer to their grandparents :) I stayed strong for the most part, but I have to say I did struggle leaving my kids everyday. My heart completely broke when Nicholas would cry when I'd leave or if I had to miss picking up my Kindergartner on his first week of school. I needed a daily nap and I needed help with my kids. It was hard and humbling. It made me appreciate things that were always taken for granted. The hard part wasn't receiving radiation, it was not being me because I was so sick from treatment. Slowly, week by week, I gained more energy. Now that it's been a month, I can take care of the kids without help and Matt can get a full work day in. We've figured out a new normal and hopefully as each week or month goes by, I will get stronger and stronger.

Matt came with me to my last radiation appointment. It was a cute date! He got to meet my technicians and see them prep me on the machine. The last 5 treatments were a boost radiation dose to my scar line. It was like a big metal stencil and they radiated the heck out of my scar. I also met with my radiation oncologist one last time. Here we are waiting for that appointment.
I found the photo of Matt and me at my very first appointment when I was first diagnosed (with Violet in tow). Quite the comparison. Can't you see the change in our eyes? But mostly we both have less hair, haha.
My radiation oncologist expressed the hope he had for me. He said he'd like to see scans in a few months and there was probably a 50/50 chance of seeing the cancer again. A coin toss, you guys. I don't think I'll forget the look on his face when he held up crossed fingers and then so sweetly grabbed my hands and said "We'll pray."

My doctors have finally come to the point where their work is done. They did everything they could to save me and rid my body of cancer and it worked. I can always see the relief in their eyes (vs the fear I saw when I was first diagnosed) and so I will continue to do my part to keep my body as healthy as I can: breathe, drink lots of water, receive all my vitamins through healthy food (I do take a vitamin D supplement because I don't drink milk and one girl can only eat so much salmon...), exercise daily, stretch, stress relief. I began endocrine therapy which is a daily pill call Tamoxifen. So far little side-effects (mild hot flashes). I need this pill because my cancer was 10% estrogen positive so we know we can inhibit growth to any lingering cancer cells. I will also be receiving my targeted therapy drugs Herceptin and Perjeta every 3 weeks. The Huntsman opened up an infusion center at the new University of Utah Healthcare Clinic in Farmington (if you're local, you know how exciting that is!) so I only have to drive 10 minutes for those appointments. I didn't realize how quickly 3 weeks creeps up, it's a new way of life but it's doable. I have minimal side effects from these drugs too. I had a lymphatic massage from my lymphedema specialist last week and was relieved to confirm there is no lymphedema or swelling or fluids or inflammation in my arm or chest. What a blessing! I am still and always will be at risk, but it is very manageable to do a small massage and stretching every night to lower my risk and treat any fluids that may be built up. Radiation did a lot of damage, but I exercised, stretched, lotioned, and massaged my way through it and that made all the difference. My skin looks and feels amazing now and I couldn't be happier.

The radiation department left me with a certificate of completion which was super cute of them. I also got a lovely soft blanket that is one of the new household favorites. Here we are outside celebrating this mom being done with treatment!
Thank you for all the continual love and support and prayers! I know so many are still praying for me and my cute family. I have a CT scan scheduled in November, pray I stay NED. Pray we see no tumors. Matt and I are picking up the pieces from our crazy year and figuring out how to move on, but we are doing it with smiles on our faces and while holding hands. Life is so good and I'm grateful to be alive, be a mom to my cute silly kids, and to still plan a future with Matt. Find joy in the journey.

Monday, October 10, 2016

That Time I Threw the First Pitch

Salt Lake City has a AAA baseball team called the Salt Lake Bees (affilliated with the Angels MLB team where I'm from, yay!). Every year they have a game around Mother's Day called "Paint the Park Pink".  It's a game to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer. I knew this game was approaching because The Huntsman Cancer Institute was doing the fundraiser at the game to raise the funds for research. I saw a few posts and ads about it and thought it was really cool.

Back in April, my social worker sat with me while I received chemo and told me the fundraising coordinator for the event had asked her to nominate one or two women being treated at the Huntsman. She wasn't sure exactly what it would entail, but said it was probably throwing the first pitch. She had thought of me and wanted to nominate me for the game. I was so surprised! There I was, sick and receiving chemo and being asked to do something really cool! I said of course I would love to! Knowing Matt and the boys would love to participate also.

I received a phone call from the coordinator a few days before the game. We worked out the details of my involvement and what we would be doing. If the donors paid a certain amount, they were able to participate that day with the team and the players would wear a jersey with the name of who they were playing for. The coordinator said we could hang out in the press box before going down to meet and speak with the team before the game. Then we would go onto the field so I could throw the first pitch. Then after the game, they wanted me back down there along with the breast cancer researchers from the Huntsman to accept the big check from all the donations.  We were really excited to participate!
It was cool to experience all the behind the scenes stuff. Everyone treated us so kindly and we enjoyed some free drinks!
It had rained earlier in the day and so we got to see them clearing off the field. Probably my boys' favorite part of being in the press box, haha.
Another woman was there with her family and kids. She was about a year ahead of me in treatment. I was encouraged by her words and was happy to see her so healthy (and with hair!). It gave me hope to what I could look forward to after treatment. Her family and my family headed to the locker room to speak to the team. I spoke first. I was announced as a cancer survivor and said "well not yet!" I showed them my bald head and said I had my 12th chemo the night before. They clapped and cheered for me. I continued to tell them how important these fundraisers are. I told them the research done from these donations will benefit women like me. I told them about my family and my diagnosis. I told them how grateful I was for the doctors and researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and how despite such a hard time in my life, I felt so good being treated there. I looked around the small room at their faces and so many of them were emotional. I realized that most people know someone who had or has cancer and how important it is for us to have these conversations and to bring awareness and (I think more importantly...because I think everyone is already aware of breast cancer) fundraising to try and treat metastatic breast cancer. I felt really good after speaking to them. Andrew especially enjoyed being in that room too, he looked super cute with his glove in hand.
Being on the field reminded me of my cheerleading days! The boys loved running around the dirt and saying hi to Bumble the mascot.

Did I prep to throw the first pitch? NOPE! Everybody asked me that when they found out I was going to do it. Then I started to get nervous thinking maybe I should have practiced. I wasn't sure how far the pitcher's mound really was from the catcher and I DID NOT want to come up short or throw it way off. I mean, I have a pretty good excuse for not being at my athletically best, but still!

I'll give credit to adrenaline, I was happy to make it to the catcher. He signed the ball for me and we got to keep the ball. My entire family came to the game. It was so much FUN! Baseball games are meant for families. We enjoyed the atmosphere and watching the players win in their pink jerseys.

After the game I brought Matt, my brother-in-law and cute nephew down on the field with me while we got a picture with the big check. I was so shocked to see they had raised over $28,000 for the Huntsman Breast Cancer Researchers. I met the three researchers and they explained to me how they were planning on using the money. Studying further the HER2 gene and researching further what causes early stages to metastasize. They told me breast cancer research is so expensive which made me so happy to support a fundraiser where 100% of the proceeds go to research.
The night ended with the biggest firework show. I felt really lucky to be chosen to participate in this important event, I think it will be a new family tradition to do every year :)