Archive | December 2012

The Unveiling

So 2012 is drawing to a close which brings us to a new year.  It’s probably a good thing that no one ever knows for sure all that will happen in the coming year or we might not want to face it!  Just because the date changes we somehow feel we are entitled to a fresh or new start but isn’t that true of each new day?  I ‘m not real good with resolutions and have a feeling many others aren’t either.  Rather than making a New Year’s resolution I thought that I would just make a new start in some areas.

Sue 12-12

Bringing in the new year with a new look

I told myself that at the start of the new year I would uncover my head.  Since I lost my hair in May exactly two weeks after my first chemo treatment I have had it covered with a wig or a scarf.  I actually liked how I looked in a wig but didn’t really enjoy wearing it.  It was itchy, sweaty at times, hot, and felt unnatural.  Nothing felt better than taking it off after wearing it all day although I felt good in it.  Cotton scarfs were more comfortable and I had fun with them but at the same time was getting tired of wearing one.  I wanted my hair to come in long enough that I could do something (anything) with it.  Now it has reached a point where I can gel up the top so it isn’t plastered against my head.

Knowing I would finally “go naked” and expose my covered skull I figured Christmas break would be a good time to get use to it before going back to work.  After the “unveiling” the first day I easily got over my lack of self-confidence and now actually enjoy having the freedom of nothing on my head.  It probably isn’t the greatest time of year to be doing this…in fact it’s the worst as even a person with a full head of hair needs a hat!  Then again, it wasn’t like I planned all this to happen either.  I joked with someone and told them that I had told the hairstylist to “Just take a LITTLE off and THIS is what happened!”

I’ve had some comments that it looks like Halle Berry’s hair style.  It may be a similar hair style but it’s obvious that the similarity between us stops there!  Oh how it would be nice to be compared to her body and beauty instead of her hair. Speaking of similarities, once one of my daughter’s friends whom I had never met before was introduced to me while I had my wig on.  He said he could see the similarity between mother and daughter, especially in regards to our hair.  I said, “Really?” and proceeded to pull my wig off.  He almost fell over with shock as my daughter and I laughed.

After having had a “covering” on my head for the last 7 months or so I feel exposed and almost vulnerable, especially with the cold weather.  It reminds me of how God is our covering, like an umbrella over us, protecting us and keeping us safe and warm.  Psalm 91:4 reads, “He will cover you with his wings. Under the feathers of his wings you will find safety.  He is faithful. He will keep you safe like a shield or a tower.” (NIRV)   “His huge outstretched arms protect you— under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm.” (Message)  In Luke 12:34 we see the picture of Jesus like a mother hen longing to gather us under his arms and cover us, take care of us, love us, and protect us; “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (NIV)  Now that is one kind of covering that I don’t ever want to get out from under!

Like I said, resolutions are not my thing.  I am happy I went through with my unveiling.  Some of my other “new starts” also began before the new year like enjoying life daily realizing that none of us knows how much time we have.  Laugh much…I started putting a joke a day as my FB status, even if I’m the only one to laugh at them!  Don’t sweat the small stuff and hand the big stuff over to God.  How about you?  What new starts will you add in your life?

Three’s a charm?

Many things come in threes or happen in threes. Why I’m not sure. Three was considered lucky and as a result many things ended up based on that number.  How often have we started something by saying, “One, two, three, GO”?   In baseball, three strikes and you’re out; three outs and the inning is over.  Ice hockey consists of three periods of twenty minutes each. An atom consists of three parts: protons, neutrons and electrons. With three notes you can form a chord.  There is a nursery rhyme about Three Blind Mice.   Both  the “Three Little Pigs” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” are classic children’s literature.  The Three Musketeers is a classic novel.  Our family likes to watch old movies of the Three Stooges.  When my children were little we would give them three gifts at Christmas and remind them that baby Jesus only received three gifts when the wise men visited him.

As I wrote before in No Small Thing, I need an aromatase inhibitor as part of my treatment for the next five years.   The first one I was on was  Femara (letrozole).  That left me feeling unbelievably achy in all my joints.  Next I was switched to Arimidex (anastrozole)  and that has left me with rashes on both of my arms and hands.  One week from now I will start the third one that is available on the market, Aromasin (exemestane).  My doctor’s exact words were, “Three‘s a charm and I am hopeful that this one will agree with you.”  We  shall see.  I am hopeful  and pray that it has no side effects as the last alternative would be taking Tamoxifen which I really don’t want to have to resort to.  I don’t believe in charms or luck but I do believe in prayer and am trusting God that this third one will be the answer.

2012 is drawing to a close soon.  I never dreamed that  this past year would have turned out the way it did.   Then again, no one EXPECTS to get cancer, do they?  My treatment was in three parts…surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. My chemo infusions were every three weeks.  My radiation had a magic number with not one, but two threes;  33 total treatments.  I am still receiving an infusion of herceptin every three weeks until next May.

All this talk of threes reminds me of some threes in the Bible.  Esther had everyone pray and fast for three days.  Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  Jesus rose from the grave on the third day.  1 Corinthians 13:13 reads, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (NIV)  One of my favorites is the trinity; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I am so thankful for that “threesome” especially this time of year as we once again center on how God the Father sent His Son to earth in the flesh as a baby to save us from our sins.  Now that’s a threesome that I wouldn’t call a charm but an outright miracle, and one that we can count on every time!

Pins and Needles

You know that unfortunate feeling you get when you stop the blood circulation to a part of your body called “pins and needles?”  Fortunately that only happens to most people after they were in a wrong position for too long and it goes away after shaking the limb out.  Unfortunately, for many cancer patients that undergo chemotherapy as part of their treatment, they deal with pins and needles on a regular basis.

One side effect from chemotherapy can be drug-induced or toxic neuropathy.  When this occurs the patient experiences numbness, tingling and pain in the hands and feet that can travel to the arm or leg as well.  Often there is weakness or an impaired sense of touch. Certain chemo drugs tend to cause damage to or destroy the peripheral sensory nerves and effect the way the brain sends signals to these parts of the body.

Every time I went for an infusion they would ask me if I was experiencing neuropathy.  If it is a problem they can lower the chemo drug dosage or temporarily stop it. Fortunately I only had numbness and tingling in my hands and feet immediately after each chemo session and after a few days the symptoms would subside.  It seemed worse at night and would sometimes wake me up.   For some patients, the pain worsens and the damage is permanent.  I know of some who also experience a burning sensation in their feet.  Others develop clumsiness and some have trouble with fine motor skills like handwriting and fastening buttons.

Symptoms and the severity will vary from person to person.  It is estimated that 30 to 40 % of cancer patients that receive chemo experience neuropathy.  It can begin during treatment or soon after and may progress slowly.  Recovery can take months, a few years, or is even indefinite in some cases.  Medication works for the pain but not for numbness.  Diet and physical therapy will aid in recovery to some extent.

Even temporary neuropathy is unpleasant to deal with.  Until the symptom goes away or subsides there isn’t much you can do at the time.  I never realized how much I depended upon the sensitivity of my fingertips to accomplish tasks.  I would just make do or do without depending on the situation.  We depend upon the use of our hands for things all sorts of things throughout the day and our feet to keep us mobile.

Having hands and feet or even other body parts that aren’t capable of functioning and are useless reminded me of a scripture in Psalm 115:4-8.  “But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.  They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.  They have ears, but cannot hear,  noses, but cannot smell.  They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats.  Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (NIV)  Those who make idols or trust in them will be like them.  I will continue to put my trust in God and God alone.  I do not want to become numb to feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence or blind to seeing all that God is doing in my life.  I do not want to be deaf to hearing His voice or not speak and give Him praise.  There’s no neuropathy in my spiritual life and that IS something I can have control over!

Feeling Foggy

source RSNA 2012

Okay, so just this week in the news there were numerous articles saying that “chemo brain” is REAL and not just a patient’s imagination.   Guess I am not going crazy.  There are definitely cognitive changes as a side effect from chemotherapy.  I may have finished my “chemo” treatments a few months ago but I am still feeling rather foggy.  At times it seems to be worse instead of getting better. However, the study said that once chemotherapy is finished, chemo brain gets better on its own.  Guess it will just take time.

I had heard about “chemo brain” but thought that maybe it happened just as a result of all the stress and everything on your mind as a result of being treated for cancer.  It’s nice to finally see some studies being done that will now give us a legitimate excuse.  The study was only on breast cancer patients and 82% of the 595  studied reported having problems with memory and concentration.  This was confirmed using PET/CT imaging showing changes in metabolism involved in long-term memory, mental agility, decision making, problem solving, and prioritizing. WOW…women need all these things to run a household on a “normal” day.  Now add spending even more mental energy dealing with doctors, treatments, appointments, insurance bills,etc. while not feeling 100% physically.

What is it like having chemo brain? It is very frustrating to look at someone you know and see on a regular, okay a daily I Have Chemo Brain Mouse Padbasis and call them by the wrong name.  I can picture people, places and events in my head and know what I want to talk about but can’t remember the name or date or location for the life of me sometimes.   Everything is always on the tip of my tongue but doesn’t want to come out.  I have always been a good multitasker but often I forget what I’m doing while in the middle of several things.  I admit that I am not a young chick any more but I really did not want to start practicing for Alzheimers either!

I was trying to remind some coworkers at school about what happened the last time the students had a half day and the staff had to stay for a full day.  They were very puzzled.  I could picture it in my head but when we looked at the calendar there had been no half day yet.  Finally someone reminded me that it had happened the end of the last school year in June, not in this new school calendar.  My timing had been way off but in my head it seemed like it had just been recent.

I was really good at “winning” with my husband because my mind was sharp as a tack and I could recall exactly where and when I informed him of something.  Now I am not so sure myself so I need to shelve that approach which probably isn’t such a bad thing.  My kids think this whole “chemo brain” thing is funny and now every time they tell me something and I look at them funny like I never heard what they are reminding me of, they say “chemo brain.”  They could really use this to their advantage “reminding” me of things that never existed!  This is not a good thing.  This is potentially dangerous.

I have always been a list maker.  It’s part of my personality.  Some of you reading this know exactly what I mean because you can’t live without your lists either!  Every day has a new list and sometimes if I do something that is not on my list I will add it just so I can get the pleasure of crossing it off.  Now you have evidence that I am really in a fog!  Anyway, I have always gotten through my day with a list.  With chemo brain for me it is even more vital to have a list so I don’t  forget what I need to do or would like to accomplish.  Ironically in the articles they suggest having family members or friends help make lists for you to get through the period of mental fog.  I don’t need or want anyone making lists for me…I just need someone to help me FIND my lists!  I don’t remember where I put them.

I know they didn’t have chemotherapy back in Bible times but I think 1 Corinthians 13:12 was written with chemo brain in mind.  It says, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (MSG)  Yes, whether my chemo fog clears in 6 months or a year, I know that one day the fog will lift, the sun will shine and the only thing that really matters will be seen clearly, my Savior!

Just a few of the articles this week on the chemobrain study:

Some books on chemobrain: