Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It was not a lost year

A couple weeks after my mom was diagnosed with cancer, a friend in his 30s was also diagnosed with cancer. He has a young daughter and has been keeping his own blog about his treatment and progress. In one entry, he talked about calling the summer of treatment his "lost summer." My mom is now done with treatment. Although we are all relieved that she is done with treatment- we have learned that with cancer you are never really "done." She will have follow up appointments with at least three different doctors (radiologist, breast surgeon, and the oncologist) that are spaced out in a way that she is meeting with a doctor every six weeks. This will continue for quite sometime, possibly up to a year. Even after that year, she will still have frequent visits to the doctors, they will just be spaced further apart. She will continue to take medications daily for the next five years to prevent this cancer from trying to invade her again. Now that treatment is "over" have been thinking about and reflecting on this last nine months of treatment.

I remember when my mom told me about the "spot" on her tests...it was probably cancer..there would be more tests...everything had to happen quickly. Shock. Disbelief. Hours later - maybe the next day - it all runs together - I remember being handed a massive pile of reading materials she received at the doctor.

"What kind of cancer did you say?"

"Inflammatory Breast Cancer."

"I can't find it in any of these stupid books."

"Keep looking, I think it is in there."

It was not in there. I went back to my home in Oklahoma City and I remember looking on the Internet. I was going to find out what this inflammatory cancer is.

I found it.

As my limbs went numb I began to quickly understand why this was not in any of those books. This is rare. This is aggressive. This is serious. This is very serious. This is a whole different ballgame. This may change my life as I know it. This may change all of our lives as we know it.

I feel like my person jumped out of my body as I read on. This type of cancer is so aggressive that by the time it is detected it can only be staged at at stage IIIB or stage IV. So you mean to tell me that at this point I am hoping that my mom has an advanced stage three cancer? Really? That this is what my prayers are focused on right now..."Please God, please, can my mom find out that she has stage three cancer...?" More shock. My mom did in fact have stage IIIB cancer. And the treatments...they were going to be horrible...long...aggressive...intense. To this day I cannot fully describe how she took it on. She was like a warrior mother. A warrior sister. A warrior Grammy. She has kids, a grandchild, sisters, brothers, friends, and she was fighting to be here with us longer. In no way am I saying that she was not bothered by the treatments. Who would not have some pretty intense "why me" and "it is not fair" moments? But you would hardly know it most days. She was determined that she was going through the treatments, she wanted the most intense dosage available, and she wanted to get on the other side of this cancer. Even as the her skin was burned and gone in places during radiation and the doctor said "we need to stop", she said she would keep going if that would help her chances. She was diagnosed in May and hoped to be done with treatments before school started. Obviously, not the case. I can see why someone would call it a "lost summer" or in her case "a lost year." But she did not. In between the treatments, the bed rest, the appointments, and the tests...she has has been living her life.

As I look back on these last nine months, I think about the living that has been done and the time that was not lost.

This year she was able to see both of her children celebrate anniversaries with their spouse.

This summer she swam with her granddaughter as she was able to swim for the first time by herself.

This year her nephew was accepted for medical school.

Her brother retired from the fire department.

Her son celebrated a birthday.

She celebrated a birthday.

She was present for sibling birthdays.

Her granddaughter started preschool.

Her granddaughter developed a love for talking to her Grammy on the phone and has had countless conversations with her about the things that three year-old children talk about.

She has been able to enjoy having a sister live in Tulsa after living out of state for several years.

She has enjoyed countless outings with her siblings.

She has been to watch her brother play hockey games.

She watched her grandchild play in her first soccer game.

She watched her church and work family pour unlimited support on her and her family.

Her son had a big Halloween party with friends, her grandchild dressed up like a princess, she had so much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, and she celebrated Christmas with her family.

Earlier this month, her siblings met her and presented her with an "I believe in Miracles" ring to celebrate her fight against cancer and the joy she has brought to each of their lives. This was not time lost. This was time lived. It was not easy, but the hard part is over. To say that this time was lost, takes away all that did happen over the last year. I think my mom recognized this while it was happening (well most days anyway) and I think that is part of why she made an effort to be there for all those events and celebrations.

Now we celebrate that she is now on the other side of cancer. We celebrate that these special occasions and events were not the last time she would be present for them. Nine months is the time that passes before new life is given. In a different way, this last nine months have given new life to my mother - and to our family. We can appreciate in new and significant ways how we are blessed that she has been able to beat this horrible and aggressive cancer. We celebrate that there will be many more years ahead of us that will be greatly lived and appreciated. And we are hopeful and thankful that these years ahead are not has hard as this year has been.

Thank you all for reading and keeping updated on how my mom has been doing. I will check with my mom to see if she would like this blog to remain up. If it does, it will not be updated frequently as - thank God- there is no longer as much reason to. Our family does appreciate all your support and we recognize that this journey would have been much more difficult without your help. Your support has made getting to the other side of cancer seem possible. And now...back to living...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This is the latest report

The length and type of radiation my mom will do continues to change. She met with the doctor yesterday during her treatment. The doctor examined her skin, took awhile to think about her recommendations, and then told mom that she needs to do one more at this strenght and then three scans over the entire area at a lower strength. Then she will be done...four more total. Mom told the doctor she is willing to do the eight additional at the full strength that she had initially recommended but the doctor told her that at this point, her skin is so burned and if they push it any more, that she could have damage to her muscles that would affect her long term arm use. The whole treatment process is such a balance. How can we give the most treatment to treat and prevent the return of cancer while doing the least long term damage as possible? My mom has been doing some form of treatment for the last seven months and the doctor feels that her body is at the maximum that it will tolerate. So three days after today, my mom will go in for her last treatment. She will meet with the cancer doctor in several days to find out what the next step is as far as continued monitoring.

Friday, December 10, 2010

In Thanksgiving

This year on Thanksgiving, I was thanful for those I had around my table, especially my mother. It was wonderful to see her getting back to "normal." She was able to stay for a couple nights. She even had the energy to participate in the annual tradition of getting up way too early and going shopping on Black Friday with my mother-in-law. She was out for most the morning. I am also thankful for her good humor. My mother has a small amount of hair growing back in. Of course, there is just enough to see some color. My daughter has always seen my mother will all dark hair (um...with help from a professional) or with no hair. As three year-olds will, she remarked most honestly about the new hair "Grammy you have panda hair!" I guess you cannot get grey hair past a child. Many may be offended, but my mother thought is was hillarious and told Addison to come tell the family about her hair. I am thankful to have that kind of mom.

As far as treatments go, she is still doing radiation. Last week, she expected to have her last regular radiation session and would be starting booster sessions this week. Her doctor said after examining her that her skin is still in very good shape and, therefore, they would like to do eight more radiation sessions and then decide what boosters need to be done. They made this decision because the type of cancer (inflammatory) is a much more aggressive type and they feel that if she is able to tolerate more treatments they would like to do them. The doctor said they would hate to regret not being more aggressive while they have an opportunity. I know that she was hoping to be done with treatment by Christmas and with the extra sessions, this will likely not be the case. Mom is in good spirits about it and said she is willing to do whatever necessary to prevent the cancer from returning. Either way, we are looking at her being done with radiation by the end of this month.

Monday, November 22, 2010

And Many More

When I think back to previous family birthdays celebrated, I remember trying to get a card together, finding the "perfect gift", and maybe spending extra time with family. Tomorrow is my mom's birthday. Tomorrow is so different from previous birthdays. My mom has always been one of my favorite people...even when I was a teenager! Six months ago, I starting thinking about, and worrying about how many more birthdays my mom might have. What if this treatment did not work? We have been so blessed. This treatment has been working - better than expected! My mom does not have a mass of cancer sitting in her body. Tomorrow is a day to celebrate. Celebrate that we get to have my mom here with us, celebrate that her body is successfully battling cancer, celebrate that due to this - there will be many many more birthdays ahead. Happy birthday mom!

Things have been going really well. Mom has been doing very well being back at work. I know she does get a bit stressed getting to radiation treatments every day, but she has been able to make it there and back each day without too much disruption. Mom is so relieved to be back with her coworkers and with kids. She says she feels "like a normal person" now that she has a daily routine and has purposeful work to do each day. Her days are long since she does a full day of school and then does after school care as well. Most of her days are eleven hour days. She has been getting through them very well and she has been blessed to have several church families prepare meals for her three days a week. This has been such a help, now when she gets home she can just warm an already prepared meal and spend the rest of the evening relaxing and resting.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where I Came From

My maternal grandmother, Betty Morris, worked as an administrative staff member for the Church of St. Mary. I do not remember much from her funeral except that the funeral was in the main church and it was completely full. It looked like Sunday Mass, but the church community was there to say goodbye to her. I also remember the priest holding up the opened ledger and talking about the entries for babies baptized - church members that received sacrament, all in her handwriting. Three of her five children attended the School of St. Mary, my mom and her two brothers. The other two did not attend only because the school had not yet been built when they were in school. When it was time for me to start first grade, I went to St. Mary. My brother is a year younger than I am, and he was a student in my mother's first Kindergarten class as a teacher at St. Mary. She has been there since. When I was going to school there, teachers that taught my mother were substitutes for my class. I have not been a student at St. Mary for over fifteen years, but when I go to visit, many of my teachers still work there. Those same teachers came to my wedding, most have met my daughter, and they keep up with my life through my mom.

How many places do you know where many of the staff members have not changed in fifteen, twenty, or more years? To me it says a lot about the community there, the support among coworkers, and the care given to the teachers by the school and church community. The amount of support my mother has received from the school and church community is amazing. My mom has been so well taken care of by her coworkers, parents of the school, and the church community. The types of support are extensive and have included things such as prayers, cards, visits at the hospital, forming a Race for the Cure team celebrating her, dressing in pink on the day of her surgery, meals being prepared for her, and several other tangible and non tangible means of support and love. I think about all of this as my mother prepares to return to work tomorrow. She is so excited to be back, as most people would if they were so blessed to work in the type of community she does. I know that she is also nervous. This will be the most physical work she has done since being diagnosed almost six months ago, and she has been really tired with radiation. She is worried about how the students will react to her. She does not have any hair and it may not be realistic that she can keep her head covered through the entire day. She is still recovering from her surgery and is very sensitive due to the radiation, she does not want the kids to be fearful of her, but at the same time, she knows she will have to set limits with them as she can not have the kids hug her too hard. But, the School of St. Mary is where we come from, it will feel like home for her to be back. She will be so well taken care of.

As I type this, I think that all the students there, with the exception of first grade and Kindergarten have been her students in the past. Most of the kids that have not yet been in her class have been with her during Sunday nursery or have siblings that have been her students. She is in some way connected to almost every student there. For those few that have not been her student yet - they will be soon - and she will love them. Who would have thought that the place my grandmother worked around fifty years ago would be the place my mother now works. Through the day tomorrow, I will think about how blessed my mother and our family have been to be part of St. Mary and I will know that since she is there, she will be well cared for on her first day back.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A couple treatments done...

So mom was able to do two treatments last week. She said she is glad she knows what to expect. On the second appointment, she had to wait a couple hours because both radiation machines were down. She was able to get done that day. She has about 25 regular treatments and then she will need to do a series of additional treatments on her incision site - maybe 5-8 additional. Her doctor told her that she will be able to get a couple weeks in before her skin starts to burn. She will return to work next week. We are hoping that she has a decent amount of energy to get through an entire work day.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Next Week

So over this previous week, mom has been to several appointments to have scans done and be fitted for a form to keep her arms in one place during the radiation treatments. The doctors will look at the scans to determine the strength of radiation. They told mom they would be very aggressive with these treatments (likely as her type of cancer is a rare and aggressive type that was at an advanced stage at the beginning of treatment). She will start treatments on Wednesday and they will be daily (Monday - Friday) for six to seven weeks. She has already started to take her medications that she will continue to take for the next 60 months to help prevent the cancer from coming back.

Mom has been doing pretty well over this previous week. She was able to get a ride to Oklahoma City over the weekend and watch Addison play soccer. She was very excited to be able to pick her up for a few seconds as she has not been able to do this for months. She stayed for several hours that day and seemed to do pretty well. I am sure this was helpful for her (and us) to feel like she is advancing in her recovery. BC (before cancer) it would not be uncommon for her to come to OKC 2-3 weekends a month and to stay for several weeks during the summer to spend time with Addison. I think this weekend was the third time she has been here since May. She was able to visit school last week and I know that she is ready to get started. She returns in just a couple weeks. She is starting to do some of the things she was able to do before diagnosis and treatment. Of course, she does get tired much more easily and you can see that she does not have the same physical strength, but it seems as though things are improving. I will keep you updated on radiation treatments.