Wednesday, April 19, 2017

But I'm Not Lactose Intolerant

Well, Ms. Borrill, you is now!

Unfortunately, I had to find out the hard, very bad way, after a week of not really making the connection as to why I was feeling a little crummy after eating some things.

I read that chemotherapy messes with your digestive track.  In truth, it pretty much messes with everything, since it's the gardening equivalent of getting hooked up to an IV of Round-Up.  The idea is to "just kill everything" in the hope that cancer gets killed to.  And because I knew this, I knew to stay away from the obvious things like alcohol, fast food, anything overly spicy or fried.  Instead, I've been eating that "healthy, high fiber, balanced diet" that is the cure for everything.

Plus a lot of dairy.

Yesterday started out SOO good.  I went to the pool, had a great morning swim.  I got to work and, for the first time in a week, felt sharp and clear-headed.  Started cranking out some filings and other reports I needed to get off my desk.  I'd started the day with a great big banana peanut butter protein shake made with a cup of 1% milk.  I did notice some stomach problems, but didn't put 2 and 2 together as I went on to eat a lunch of cut fruit topped with greek yogurt and Grape Nuts (lots of dairy-topped fiber!).

By 3:00 I had the worst stomach cramps ever and couldn't get far enough away from the bathroom to even make the 15 minute drive home.  It was awful.  AWFUL!

When I was finally able to get home and in touch with the on-call doctor, I ran through my day and he informed me that chemo had given me lactose intolerance, and from here on out, dairy needs to be OFF my list.

Some might consider that a bummer.  (No melty cheese??)  But after yesterday, I'm just thrilled to have a quick diagnosis and a plan that will keep that from happening again.  I am still feeling the repercussions today, not quite as sharp, more tired, restless sleep.  But I am on the mend, and a day smarter.

On the upside, talking with a different doctor had an unintended bonus.  My own oncologist had led me to believe that each chemo infusion would get more difficult to deal with.  The symptoms get worse, the recovery takes longer.  When I mentioned that in passing to the oncologist on-call last night, he acted confused and said that wasn't the case.  In fact, it's usually the first infusion that's the hardest because nobody knows what side effects I will have (case in point: lactose intolerance), and by the time I have the next infusion, I've "figured it out" and don't end up with so many problems.  In his experience, most people have an easier time the farther they go.  He'd added that it's only fatigue that gets worse, but not all the other symptoms.

This was total news to me, and it caused me to rethink the conversation with my own doctor that led me to believe it would all be down hill from here.  Now that I think of it, she may have only been talking about fatigue getting worse.  I took it to mean everything.  I won't know for sure until I get there, but it's another example where even a bad spell can have a little silver lining.  I was really happy to hear this and definitely hope it's true! 

In the meantime, my son can go back to drinking milk straight from the carton, since we won't be sharing it anymore.  My weight is also trickling down, not because I'm dieting but because the chemo is forcing me to give up all the bad things that put on pounds.  So here is that!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Chopping off the Locks

Since my hair will start falling out any time now, I chose to take matters into my own hands and have the bulk of my hair cut off. Honestly, after the fatigue from this first round of chemo, I'm too tired to deal with my hair anyway.

What I did NOT know (because this is the shortest my hair has been since I was a toddler) is that the cowlick that makes my hair stick up in front goes all the way to the back. In fact, all my hair will stick straight up if you let it.

I was prepared for Rachel Maddow. I was NOT prepared for Don King!

But thanks to my wonderful long-time hair stylist Michelle (at Ferrari Salon in Cotati if you are looking for someone good), a little gel works miracles.  Thanks also to BFF Kathy Conant for going with me and holding my hand. Next step for my hair may be an all-out shave off, but at least this will get me going.

Day 5: Over The Hump With Round 1 (Hopefully)

Started the morning with a 2.5 mi walk, a little shaky and slow on my feet, but by the time I got back, I was much improved.  Not 100%, but definitely better.

Al will be mad that I went out by myself (I took my phone), but the heavens gave me a perfect morning for a quiet, restorative walk.  School is out so the streets are quiet.  It rained all day yesterday, so the air was clean and the grounds were moist and fresh.  A nice overcast morning keeps the sun from my eyes and raises the scents of all the blooming flowers and wet earth.

I'm tired, but it was worth the energy.  I'm hopeful today starts the steady improvement over these next 2.5 weeks between Round 1 & 2.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Day 4: The Truck That Hit Me

First thing I will say is this isn't bad.  It's not unbearable.  And from what I understand, it comes from the Taxotere, so if you're reading this because you're facing chemo also, this may not even be you.

But two days after my first infusion, I was smooth sailing for the most part.  Then somewhere around midnight last night, I'd fallen asleep on the couch and woke up with the worst stiff neck ever.  You know the kind:  You slept wrong, can't turn your head.  Add to that, general joint pain which I have also experienced before at times when I've overdone it in the yard.  Inflammation type pain.  Stiffness in the backs of my knees.  That flu-like feeling when you know you're coming down with something.

It had me tossing and turning in bd until I finally woke at 8:30 a.m. and got up.  The good news is, some XS Tylenol, a nice warm neck wrap, lots of water and a hot shower have done wonders.  I'm fatigued, but not uncomfortable.  And I will be thrilled if this is the low spot for this first round of chemo. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Importance of Blogs and Logs And Giving It Up

The Blogs

I'm finding Facebook and this blog extremely helpful in not only creating a therapeudic diary of this journey, but also in helping me keep friends and family updated.

While I'm immensely thankful that people care--that means a LOT to me--I'm also finding it difficult to repeat the same updates to all the wonderful friends and family who send me emails and IMs asking how I'm doing, while still keeping up a schedule of work/rest/exercise/cooking, etc..  It is an aid to me when people check here first, and in return, I'll try not to bore you with a bunch of extraneous information that puts you to sleep. :)

The Logs

All my coworkers in Finance will completely understand my ingrained need to chart and graph my statistics through these 84 days.  So, of course, I started with Excel and created a daily log.  It has the following columns and up to 13 individual hours can be logged on one day:
  • Time of Day
  • How I'm feeling
  • What I've eaten
  • What I've drank in the way of liquids
  • Drugs I've taken
  • Exercise I've done
 I've got spots to track my daily weight and the hours I slept, etc.

I'm the worst one for going to the doctor with complaints then never being able to articulate exactly when and how problems come on.  So I plan to be diligent in keeping this up, even though it does suck quite a bit of time out of my day.

If you are reading this post because you're going through something similar, I highly recommend and log or journal.  It will help you see trends in what's working, what's not, but also keep you in tune and conscious with your body.

Giving It Up


Here is a lesson that started long before I got my first chemo infusion:  To get through something like this, you've got to take your body OFF of life's schedule, and put your life ON your body's schedule.  That's easy for me because I don't have a lot of set meetings, no kids to get to school and sports.  I can work from home, make my hours, and I belong to a 24-hour gym.  I know everyone doesn't have that luxury, but in whatever way you can, you need to do this.

Early on, with anxiety of this diagnosis, the unknown, the waiting, fear, worry, I stopped sleeping regularly.  It was like being in the Amityville Horror movie, waking up at 3:15 every damn night.  The old me would have panicked fearing I'm going to crash in the afternoon if I don't sleep until at least 6:00 a.m.

But then out of frustration, I did something amazing:  Instead of lying awake for hours calculating how much sleep I could get if I fell asleep "RIGHT NOW", I got up and started my day.  I turned on my work computer and started handling business.  I got to be pool early, swam.  When the afternoon came around, I didn't crash.  Clearly, my body had gotten enough rest even though my brain insisted that was never going to happen.

If you run your life on a fairly set schedule, be prepared to let that schedule go.  This doesn't have to be a bad thing.  It relieves a lot of stress to realize that, when my body says it's done sleeping after 4 hours, I can go through the day pretty well.  All the horrible things I thought would happen didn't.

In short, you stop the process of feeling you always need to be in control.  And that is a good life lesson.

Day 1 of 84: The Chemo Saga Begins

Infusion 1 of 4

 Day One: Overriding theme for the day: "One down, three to go." 

 I started the day with a good swim at the pool, a walk with Al and then a protein breakfast at Peppers Cafe. Egg scramble, yummy. It was all the perfect prep to put me in high spirits, have me feeling good and ready to get this first treatment over with. 

All I kept thinking was, "No matter what, after today I will only have three more chemos." That count-down helps a LOT.

I took with me the big bear Tommy gave me after my lumpectomy, as well as the blanket a dear friend crocheted for me. LOTS of water, gummy bears (my preferred snack), magazines, Words With Friends, Facebook, and Animal Crossing. With Al by my side in and out, it all went by completely uneventfully, thank GOD. Time whizzed by fast. Chemo is painless, only the IV in my hand was annoying and cold, but they give you a pillow and a nice warm electric blanket to wrap it with. The chairs are comfy, the room is sunny. I could have stayed there a couple more hours. I felt like being a little kid again, in the back of our family's Rambler station wagon, surrounded by pillows and puzzles, and all the fun things my mom gave me to keep me busy on road trips to Crater Lake and Mt. Hood.

The only problem with the three chemo days (day before, day of, day after) is the steroids they have me on.  They prevent allergic reaction and help with nausea, etc.  But they give me splitting headaches and almost nothing takes them away.  I'm only able to get them tolerable with Lorazepam and THC, the combination of which zones me out and makes me sleepy.  Luckily, the headaches don't come on until later in the day and evening, so I'm pretty functional otherwise.

Saturday, that nuisance will be gone, but they tell me it will be the "big crash" and the effects of chemo will start setting in.  I need to keep up with my healthy diet, tons of water and exercise to stave those off as much as possible.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Good Oncologist - The Best Rx for Google Depression

Yesterday, I burst into (happy) tears when my oncologist told me I could still go to my gym and swim through chemotherapy.  In fact, she not only told me it would be fine, she looked at me quizzically, wondering where the heck I'd gotten the idea that I couldn't.

Well, Google, of course.

It was Thursday when she'd phoned with the dreaded word "chemo".  Our in-person appointment wasn't until Monday.  That gave me three days in between to sit on the internet and work myself into sleepless nights of anxiety, depression, and gloom.

I'm a researcher.  When I embark on anything, be it vegetable gardening, mosaics, romance writing, I dive into the internet, talk to people who have been there, read articles, join discussion forums, and in general, search for all the knowledge I can possibly gain on the subject.  That's been amazingly fun and effective when it comes to fun hobbies.  Not so much when it comes to cancer.

I'm not saying there's a lot of bad information out there.  Much of what I learned off sites like or through the American Cancer Society was accurate and valuable.  But it can also be terrifying if it's not tempered by the details of your own personal situation.  And it gets worse when you wander into the on-line support groups and forums and start reading accounts from people who have been there.  They can paint a pretty bleak picture, no matter how much you try to slant your Google searches to something that might give you hope.  In fact, by the time Al and I walked into the doctor's office Monday, the following thoughts had already set up shop in my psyche:
  • It's like I'm on death row waiting out my last days before chemo ends my life.
  • I will come out of this permanently impaired.
  • Things I love about my body--my hair, my skin, my nails--will be forever destroyed.
  • Next year at this time, I'll be in the 300 lb club, facing double-knee surgery, I'll be an alcoholic or drug addict from the permanent, chronic pain.  
  • I'll have to give up all the hobbies that bring me joy.
It was so bad by Sunday night that I had to download guided meditation tapes and listen to them through the night just to get a measly 4 hours of sleep.

Needless to say, I am done with the internet.

It's not that I regret giving myself self-inflicted pain.  Knowing me, there was NO WAY I would go through something like this without scouring for information to get as informed and prepared as possible.  Doing so helped me track down things that might be especially worrisome to me but not the next guy, and make sure I covered those things with my doctor while I had her time.

And while Sunday was one of the most anxious and depressed days of my life, by the time we walked out of the doctor's office Monday afternoon, I felt cleansed.  Like I'd looked all the worst case scenarios in the eyes and stared them down until they backed off and crawled away.

Al asked her if we came with more questions than the average chemo patient, and though I forget her actual response, it was definitely in the "yes" category.  But she said what's more troubling are the people who come in and don't ask anything at all.  People are different.  We all face challenges using the tools that have worked for us in the past.  I'm sure many simply turn themselves over to God, stay in the present and pray for strength in the future.  They don't need to know what might be coming, and will deal with it when it does.  I admire those people, but there really is no wrong answer to how to face a challenge.  For me, this was my way.

Sunday was bad, but today I am feeling relieved, confident and strong.  BIG shout-out to the group at St. Josephs Cancer Center.  They are an amazing group of people.  After my appointment, the scheduling nurse walked me around the facility and showed me the room where people were receiving their chemo treatment.  It looked like a nail salon, and the people there getting treatment were as calm, relaxed and unaffected as folks getting pedicures.  That one tour alone wiped out more fears than you can imagine.

Like I said, I am officially done Google searching.  I went there, had my fill, turned over every rock and now I'm done feeling clueless and afraid.

I've got a tentative date of 4/13/17 to have my first treatment.  It was a date I chose as I looked forward on the calendar and figured what would work best for me.  (Yes, I showed up at the doctor's office with a 2017 calendar and marked all the dates for everything.  I am nothing if not my mother's daughter.)  Between now and then I won't be stressing anymore.  And that's a good feeling.  I'm in a good place now, so my work will be focused on staying here.  But it was definitely a bumpy ride.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Presents for me and the importance of having a happy place

I'm someone who does well when I feel ready and prepared.  Having outstanding to-do's gives me stress.  So with the decision made about chemo, I went on a shopping trip this morning at Amazon.

I'm giving two chemo hats a try, knowing I can return them so easily if they don't work (love you, Amazon):

Next on the list was something I've wanted for a long time:  A waterproof iPod for the pool and spa.  I need to pick up my long lost practice of meditation, which I mostly did in the morning when I swam.  It's hard to get the voices out of my head, though, so I'm going to give this a try.  I intend to fill it with quiet meditation music.

Quite a few swimmers use these, though they always seem to have to mess with the ear buds while swimming.  If that's a problem for me, I still plan to use this after my work-out while relaxing in the spa.  It is a great way to start the day.

And then I'm going back to yoga.  I took a class at my gym when I was 30 lbs lighter.  I loved the strength, flexibility and feeling of accomplishment I had when finishing the class.  But it was WAY too challenging for me to keep up.  My back constantly ached.  Even with the modified poses the instructor offered, it was an aggressive routine that even the thin, experienced people in the class said was challenging.  So I bought two yoga DVDs directed at older, larger women.  I'm not sure when I'll have the time for them, but this is supposed to be the point of doing less cooking and hiring a cleaning lady.  I must remind myself that I should fill that spare time with rest and things like this.

And lastly, I picked up an Animal Crossing Amiibo set for $6.00.  What is an Animal Crossing Amiibo?  I HAVE NO IDEA!  But I'm playing this Nintendo game on my son's DS XL and from what I understand, I can do more things in the game if I buy and scan some Amiibo cards.

For me, having a "happy place" to go has been a very big saving grace.  Animal Crossing is a video game that I used to play with my son when he was young.  It's not a racing or timed-type game, as those stress me out.  Think Sims with animals for neighbors.  It runs in real time (yesterday was really St. Patrick's Day in the game), and you just wander around, catch some fish, dig for treasures, complete little tasks, or play easy little games to make money to buy stuff for your house and your town.

It's not a thinking game, for when I'm too tired for Words With Friends or other strategy games I'm fond of.  It's a completely simple little activity that allows me to decompress, and most importantly, step away from reality.

I've found since going through this stressful period, I have less tolerance for Facebook, as you never know what is going to hit you on your news feed.  People often share very depressing things and you can't control the content.  Television is the same, commercials make me hungry, news blips can get my blood boiling.  Even a good book requires conflict in order to make a good story.  And when going through cancer treatment, there are times I don't want any of it.  So my favorite activity at the end of the day has become sipping a mug of bedtime tea, eating 2 oz of yummy dark chocolate, and  sitting with my husband while he's watching sports and I bury myself in this little cartoon land where everyone is happy, no one is sick or dies, and no one struggles to get through the day.

If you are reading this for yourself or for a loved one who is going through something like this, I HIGHLY recommend thinking up an activity like this.  Maybe adult coloring books would be another option, or learning how to knit.  Something that doesn't require thinking too hard but is relaxing to do.  For me, it's Animal Crossing, and I am looking forward to seeing what the heck these Amiibo cards are.

A Breast Cancer Journey

Three days before Christmas, I get the call from my doctor.  She says, "I got the results of your biopsy."  There's a long pause then a sigh and then she says the phrase I'll never forget.  "Are you sitting down?"

Needless to say, it ruined our holidays, but we insisted on remaining positive and not worrying until someone gave us something to worry about.

Fast forward 11 weeks.  I sailed through my lumpectomy, or what they call a partial mastectomy.  I took 2 weeks off of work for that, which was plenty, and while my body is healing nicely, this is basically just the first course in what will be a long meal of recovery.

The next course of treatment would be based on my Oncotype score, where they test the mass that was removed during surgery and predict a recurrence.  It took 4 weeks from the date of my surgery to the day I got my score, and it was one of the most stressful times of my life, I won't lie.

And the news wasn't good. 

My score was 27, which isn't an automatic "Yes" for chemotherapy.  But these factors matter:

  • I'm "young" by BC standards at the age of 55.
  • I have no other real health issues that would be jeopardized by chemotherapy.
  • I'm clinically obese with a BMI of 39 that puts me in an even higher risk of recurrence.
  • I'm close to post-menopause which increases the risk of recurrence even more if you are also obese

Add those things together and I have to concede to doing whatever I can to keep from never being in this place again.  So I am facing chemotherapy, followed by radiation, followed by hormone therapy.  A triple-whammy.

And I am terrified.

I'm a researcher by nature.  Give me a challenge and I hit the internet on high speed looking up everything I can to educate myself.  There is an abundance of information out there, but it also comes with an abundance of horror stories.  You can literally convince yourself that today is the last day you will ever feel healthy if you read too many forums and articles.  I need to stop reading forums and articles.  So instead, I've decided to revive my garden blog and start a section that dialogues what will be a 12-month (or more) battle with breast cancer.

For anyone in the know, here are my specifics:

Dx 12/22/2016, IDC, Left, <1cm, Stage IA, Grade 2, 0/1 nodes, ER+/PR-, HER2-  
Surgery 2/13/2017 Lumpectomy: Left  
Chemotherapy Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Taxotere (docetaxel) 
Radiation Therapy Whole-breast: Breast 
Hormonal Therapy  Unclear right now.

Through this, I have these goals:

Try to stay sharp and keep working through treatment.  My job is important to me.  I'm the primary income in my household, and if this treatment renders me incapable of working in my field, puts me on long-term disability or something of the like, we lose our house and all the things you see on this garden blog.  The likelihood of that happening is small, but.....when you read too many forums.....

Get going on a solid exercise routine, and keep up as much of it as I can through this process.  From everything I've read and been told by my oncologist, this is the greatest predictor of how well I will be responding to treatment, fighting fatigue, minimizing side effects, and healing as rapidly as possible.  This won't be easy for me.  I loathe exercise, and give me any ailment as an excuse, I will opt for the couch.  This will be extremely hard, I'm already preparing for that, but I'm going to try.

Try not to gain weight, and if possible, lose weight.  Like I said, my BMI is 39.  There HAS to be a silver lining in everything I will be going through.  I have a goal of losing 60 pounds, and I know that will be laughable to some people reading this.  I may look back on this and think, "What an ignorant fool I was."  But I've got to try.  I can't end up part of the 300 club through this.  If I do, there will be absolutely nothing positive coming out of this experience.  At least, that's the way I feel right now.  I eat to comfort, I eat to celebrate, to stimulate and to calm.  Pretty much every point on the emotional scale I have a food for.  This challenge already feels daunting and I haven't even started.  But lets see where this goes.

Stay as healthy as I can through this.  Before this, I was blessed with a great immune system.  Especially after I started swimming 5 years ago, I can literally be surrounded by colds and flus and never catch it.  From what I read, those days are probably over, and possibly permanently read those dreaded forums.....  So losing weight, exercise, eating right are going to be a big deal.  I once wished that I had the right motivation to whip myself in shape.  (Note to self:  Never wish for shit like that again.)  But I wished nonetheless.  So here is my motivation.  What will I do with it?

So here we go on this journey.  I got the call from my oncologist yesterday that chemo was in my future.  My husband and I meet her on Monday to talk in person and get more information.  I've spent the last 36 hours looking up everything I can about my treatment and have a 3-page typed-up list of questions and topics I want to discuss, as well as my calendar.  In case you haven't guessed, I'm slightly OCD.  So today and tomorrow will be about setting all this aside for a while and just enjoying life and getting in shape.  I'm off to the gym to start putting my money where my mouth is.

Until next time.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Rat Update and a Compost Bin Retrofit

Well...the rat wouldn't leave.  And my attempt at throwing kitchen scraps in a sealed-up bin didn't work that great either.  I just ended up with a stinky sealed up bin of kitchen scraps and a rat still in my compost.  So after a lot of research and pondering, I ultimately decided to retrofit the compost bin I already had, and simply seal it off from rodents.

Really, I love everything about my compost bin.  It has been a huge success, if it weren't for the one annoyance of a rat.  And after many hours of internet browsing on the subject, I realized I was half way to having a bin that rats couldn't get into.  I didn't need to break it down and start with something else.  I needed to simply make some design modifications.

So I emptied out my bin, which was half a day's work in it's own.

The uncomposted material got buried in the beds I don't plan to plant in for a few more months.  The finished dirt got thrown on the top of my spring garden beds.  The upside is my raised beds are ready for planting.

Then it was time to retrofit my compost bin.  I found my inspiration on the internet with this compost bin that is purportedly rat proof:

I loved the design elements of this bin, and decided to copy it, using the frame of the bin I'd already made. Gone was my warped plywood top and the big (also warped) front panel that has to be taken off in one large piece.  In it's place were lids like these, and front panels on "tracks".  Having the front come off is HUGE for me, as I find it a total design flaw to have closed compost bins that only open in the top.  Anyone who has tried to shovel and turn compost knows how problematic that is.

I started with the bottom.  Unlike the inspiration bin pictured above, I want my bin sitting on the ground.  My bin attracts worms, so it is very much a vermicompost.  But to make that work, worms need to come up from the ground.  I also don't like the idea of space under the bin, as that's the perfect hiding spot for rodents to gnaw their way through wood.

Instead, I put a double layer of 1/2" galvanized hardware cloth along the bottom.  I edged it in metal galvanized strapping tape, screwed down so the cloth wouldn't pull off with the weight of the compost on top of it.

I then put a single layer of hardware cloth across the back and sides.  Instead of simply relying on staples, I edged off the hardware cloth with wood lath (cheaper than the galvanized strapping tape), so it couldn't be pulled away at the edges.

With the bottom, back and sides done, it was time to work on the front panels.

I laid in tracks for 1 x 6 x 6 (cut to 3' lengths) redwood fence boards to slide into.

And here we have the finished panels!

The last addition was new lids for the top, heavier and sturdier than my original design.  

I framed out the lids, and used another double-layer of 1/2" hardware cloth for the top.  Another design alteration from my original bin was to make the top of cloth instead of enclosed wood.  When you research compost bins on the internet, they caution you to cover them to prevent them from getting too wet.  I've learned, that's advice for people who don't live in California.  Here, we want to take advantage of any rain we get to wet down our bins.  In the event we have major storms that could flood the bin, I can always put a tarp on it.  But for 99% of the time, I want to use free rain to water my bin, instead of hosing it with water I have to pay for!


And here is the finished bin!

Will it be rat proof?  Only time will tell.  But you can be sure that I will keep you posted!