Sunday, May 12, 2013

My 60 Seconds of Fame

What an absolute whirlwind this week has been!

I am into week 2 of round 2 of chemo. This one has been easier. Dr. Krie, my oncologist, actually told me that the first round is probably the hardest. Your body is reeling from the shock of the introduction of nasty toxic chemicals to its system, and you get all these side effects. Once you've been through it, however, you mentally and emotionally know what to expect. So this time around, I have had way less gastro-intestinal distress (because I anticipated and medicated sooner), I knew what to expect on the first weekend, and how long for the ennui to last. My mouth is still in the sensitive stage, and I try to remember to carry Kleenex with me for the frequent, spontaneous nosebleeds.

I have to confess, I threw myself a little pity party on Monday (round 2, day 4). I was on my 3rd day of not feeling very energetic, I had to work, and I hated the way I looked in the mirror in the morning. Felt a little like this:

Let's be honest, I feel like this most mornings. Hair or not...

I sat down and had myself a good cry. Then I threw up. Well, dry-heaved. I hadn't eaten yet. I pulled myself together, went down and got the kids ready for school, then I told my Facebook friends what was going on. (Isn't that what everyone does? Cries, vomits, then tells all their friends?) OK, I didn't mention the vomit, but I said I was feeling sorry for myself, and got all kinds of support from Facebook-land. "You go ahead and cry... It does you good... You need it..." etc. But here's what happened. I started to let that self-pity seep in, and another wave of nausea swept over me.

I recognized it immediately that time. My attitude has a lot to do with my symptoms. Wow. I mean, I can't control my cardboard tongue or anything, but the nausea is related to how self-absorbed I become. I made a decision then and there to not let that self-pity (a form of pride) sweep over me. It's not a feeling I like anyway, and I can sense how it pulls me away from a God-centered life.

So, I pulled my attitude out of the mud, and got back up on the positive side again. Does this mean that I have to also live under the pressure of always staying all happy-peppy?  Of course not! It just means that, just like I tell my kids, I do have a choice how I am going to respond to each day, and some days for me, that choice means the difference between head in the toilet or not. My circumstances do not have to dictate my inner peace.

Well, I got through the three hard days, also identifying that part of the reason I was upset was that Matt was leaving for a week on Tuesday morning. I really, REALLY miss him when he's gone. I don't know how some moms do it with a dad that isn't there part of the time. I would really suck at it. I guess we all learn to adapt to the curves and turns life throws at us. It wouldn't be so hard to lose him if he was a bum, but he's really helpful around the house, and is such a good dad. And he's funny. And I love him.

Tuesday morning rolled around, I dropped Matt off at the airport, and got both kids up and off to school. I had a few errands to run, then met my mom for a little retail therapy. She totally spoiled me, as she took me shopping for shoes, a swimsuit and a couple of dresses. Oh, and a new wig. I will  be sporting a short, blond cut occasionally this summer now too. Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday night, I got to go be a runway model at a Mary Kay makeover/ style show event they were having in town. There's this cute little shop in Downtown Sioux Falls called Chelsea's Boutique, and my super-effervescent friend, Sarah asked me if I wanted to be a runway model for their fashion show. So Tuesday evening I found myself, incognito (because nobody really knew me or that I had cancer) and chatted it up with some of the other girls. All of us, just regular gals who also had never done this before. I tried to blend in. I practiced being like my friend, Amy Lu, who is one of the best listeners I know, and asked questions about the person I was talking to, without needing to interject a personal anecdote every other sentence like I usually do. It turns out, it's hard to casually drop into a conversation that you're going through chemo treatments. But I do anyway. I'm a barrel of laughs.

At one point, one of the MK ladies came over to me and complimented me on my hair. I smiled suspiciously, looking to see if she had been sent by someone I knew, which she was not. I can't quite just say "thank you." Instead I said, "Are you... serious? Because I am going through chemo treatments for breast cancer, and this is a wig."

She immediately said, "Oh I am a survivor! I had my left breast removed in 2009! You look great! I can't believe you're in treatments right now!" (MK ladies have a way of speaking with a lot of exclamation points.)  I have entered the twilight zone. I swear you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a breast cancer survivor. Somehow, I have 2-3 conversations like this every day.

Anyway, I got to strut my stuff on the runway. I didn't actually get many pictures, but I did have Mom snap this one of me in one of the outfits...

Yeah, I talked Mom into buying me the hat... 
Now I can go to the Kentucky Derby.

In my "I'm not so perfect as I'd like to pretend to be" moment of the night, as I went to step up onto the platform in my first outfit, I stepped right out of my shoe. Had to backtrack... pick up my shoe... try again. Just keepin' it real.

Mom stayed with me overnight and helped get the kids where they needed to go on Wednesday morning. I decided it was time to break out some fun at Maia's school, and wore my pink wig to be a classroom helper. I was not at ALL a distraction.

Best conversation of the morning with a 1st grader in the hallway:

Kid: Why are you wearing that pink wig?
Me: Uh... well, I don't have any hair.
Kid: Yes you do. I've seen it.
Me: Nope, it's all gone. You can ask your mom.
Kid: I saw you yesterday, you have hair.
Me: No I don't. Why are you in the hallway. Aren't you supposed to be going to the bathroom?
Kid: You have hair.
Me: No, actually. I don't. Want to be freaked out? (start to pull wig away from the side of my head)
Kid: (turns his back to go down hall to bathroom) Whatever, lady. You have hair.

Thursday was exciting because I made my television debut. I had to force myself to stay up until the 10:00 news, but here is the story that KSFY did on me. They were very complimentary, and I like that they didn't water down the faith element of who I am. A big thanks to Mark Roper for his kindness, and high school classmate, James Jansma for suggesting the idea in the first place.

A lot of friends have shared my little story on Facebook (poor Matt felt the need to stay up late until it was posted online, so he could watch it before going to bed), and a few people mentioned seeing me on the news the next day. I have received messages from people I don't know, telling me how the story and my blog have impacted them. It is all very humbling and flattering.

Saturday was the Avera Breast Cancer Race. I have never been a part of this event, or any other race for that matter... well, since I injured out of cross country in high school with stress fractures in both legs, but that's another story. Anyway, one of the teachers at Maia's elementary school asked me if I wanted to be on the school's team. We have a handful of survivor moms and teachers, and one In Memory Of. I took her up on it, and we named the team the All City Tiaras and Tutus. So, we donned our tiaras and tutus, and let the fun begin!

Xander & Maia 

Some of the All City crew

My brother, Casey, who works for Avera, manfully sporting a tutu

My sister-in-law, Heidi and two of her friends, Trisha and Rhonda 
ran with my name on their backs

My other sister-in-law, Rena

These were just the team members I actually communicated with 
who met in the parking lot before the race. There were others, but this was a flattering turnout. 
It is worth noting that the runner on the far right (Traci, another of Heidi's friends) had the number 22 for the race.
Also in here, my cousin Laurie who came all the way for Minneapolis to run the 10K, 
and her mom, my Aunt Jeanne. Also my step-dad, also manfully sporting both tiara and tutu.

 There were some very clever team names and t-shirts. I didn't have the presence of mind to capture some of them. I liked the team dressed as bumble bees for Julies Boo-Bees. There were Tutus for Tatas- one of their guys was dressed in a pink body stocking. With a tutu. Awesome. One team went past and they were all wearing Mickey Mouse ears, and on their backs they had "I'm running for Mickie" on their stickers.

I loved these t-shirts, and was impressed at the hand-lettering on them:
"Check your bumps for lumps" & 
"Save the tatas"

"Boobs: They need our support"

 I learned a few things at my first Avera Breast Cancer Walk:

  • It will probably be cold. At least the sun was shining on us today, but it was about 40 degrees, and a bit breezy. All the pictures I've seen posted from past events have had people bundled up against the cold, sometimes rain. Hopefully not snow, but don't count it out.
  • Get there early to get the goods. They have all kinds of free stuff to give away, but you don't get it after you're done. You get it first, because by 10 am, everyone is gone. This is not the kind of thing that you can wait until you get there, or wait until after to get your poop in a group (which is unfortunate, because that's how I usually roll).
  • Be the captain of your own team. Kayleen, who suggested this in the first place, is a 5th grade teacher, and it's the last 2 weeks of school. She did not have time to pick up and distribute all the race packets. I happily did most of that this year, but was not the official contact person. It was a little messy, but now I know what to expect, and can take the bull by the horns next year.
  • There will be food there. I spent so much time getting fabulous before leaving the house, that I didn't leave enough time to eat, so I threw in some food and a leaky water bottle from home. Not necessary.
  • This is not a one-time deal. I had a pretty nice crew this year, but now this stamp of being a "survivor" is on me forever. I don't have to do the race every year (By the way, I took the 3-mile walk option with several others from our team. I don't run), but people wanted to do it on my behalf, it was fun, and it is a tremendous fundraiser and the funds go directly to the Prairie Center.
  • Tutus generate a lot of static electricity that transfers immediately to pink synthetic hair and shocks you in the face. I did not know that before today.
  • I am really, really lucky. I think I have the easiest cancer treatment ever. 
I had some great conversations with some complete strangers today. I was in the Survivors' Tent, waiting with Maia & Rylie (my niece) to get their nails painted, when I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me. She didn't find her lump until it was bigger than a golf ball. Her hardest night was waiting for her pet scan result to see if she was Stage 3 or Stage 4. Because Stage 3 is curable, and Stage 4 is not. She had to go home after chemo treatments (some ungodly number... 16 rounds?), and potty train her preschooler. UGH!  Can you imagine?

Here was my favorite God moment of the day. I was just finishing that conversation, when a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was Amy (how anyone could recognize me in that getup is a true miracle!). She had tears in her eyes and said, "I was meant to see your story on the news the other night. We are walking the same road. I was also diagnosed in March. I watched your story, and I read your blog. Thank you." I quickly assessed her fragility, the wig, her daughter at the nail table right next to mine and pulled her into a huge hug. Get this, she found her lump while breastfeeding her baby, and it was incorrectly assumed to be mastitis, so by the time they figured out it was cancer, she was at stage 3. I later found out that she's a good friend of one of Mom's good friends. That happens a lot around here. I would say it's a SD thing, but she's from NW Iowa. Close enough.

And that's just two of the hundreds of survivor stories out there, and I hear more every day. I am so very, very lucky to have caught this little bitty tumor when I did. That I went to the doctor about it is a miracle, since I never go to the doctor, and I'm really cheap. They didn't dismiss it when they couldn't really see it on the mammogram, they kept looking until they found the truth. I am blessed with friends, loved ones and a God that provides for my every need through the Body of Christ. I am so fortunate that the timing of my treatment means I don't even really have to miss a beat, can take the summer off to heal, and should be able to be back to teaching in the fall.

People keep calling me brave. I don't deserve that. Really. I am just facing some minor obstacles. There truly are some courageous women out there fighting for their lives, and I am honored to be an encouragement during the journey. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Losing My Hair

So last night, I shaved my head. What did you do?

My hair started falling out in earnest on Saturday morning. We were staying in a hotel, and Saturday and Sunday, I felt so bad for the housekeepers at the hotel! I left a note of explanation and a tip for them.

Backing up a bit... Last week was a great week! Part of the reason for the rush in getting started on chemo on April 11, was so that I would feel good for a trip to St. Louis that our family had been planning for several months, and I did! I felt as normal as I've felt since chemo treatment #1. My mouth went back to normal- less dry and carpet-y feeling, and my digestive system got back on an even keel, and I was HUNGRY a lot! I gained 3 whole pounds, and my jeans are not quite as loose.

Indulge me for a second, I have to brag on my kid for a moment... Xander is a part of the Robot Geeks, which is a First Lego League team made up of all 7th and 8th graders from Patrick Henry Middle School here in Sioux Falls. FLL teams are judged on the performance of their robots, which is the most public event at a tournament- scores are posted, and they do them in a large space and have MCs and it's all very exciting. Each year, there is a theme, last year's theme was Food Factor, this year was Senior Solutions (helping the elderly with common problems). Teams will do a Project, where they come up with a problem and a creative solution to that problem, then present it to a panel of judges- usually a little skit of some sort, then answer some questions. They also have a Tech Briefing, where they present their robotic programming information to the judges, they do a Core Values activity- they have a poster outlining the core values of FLL: 
  • We are a team.
  • We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
  • We know our coaches and mentors don't have all the answers; we learn together.
  • We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
  • What we discover is more important than what we win.
  • We share our experiences with others.
  • We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.
  • We have FUN!
 and then the judges have them do an activity together, which they don't know what it will be going in, to see how well the team communicates and works together. I've only gotten to hear about these activities until last week, because parents aren't usually allowed to watch. 

These 3 things along with Robot Performance, in which the robot the team creates attempts to solve missions on about an 8'x4' table, filled with Lego creations that the robots interact with, all according to the theme of the year- this year with Senior Solutions as the theme, there there missions such as completing a Lego quilt, walking a dog, fixing a broken chair, turning off a stove, working a cardiovascular machine, bowling, choosing the right color medicine bottle, and balancing the robot on a bridge. The more missions your robot completes successfully, the more points your team gets.

In 2011, the Geeks' robot got 2nd place in that portion of the competition, but the team won the overall State Tournament, and got to advance to the North American Championship at Legoland in Carlsbad, CA. This year, our robot, Steve, did not perform as well at State, and we were really quite shocked when we won the State Tournament for the second year in a row! The team was sent to the World Championship in St. Louis, and we were one of 80 teams from 60 different countries to come home with a trophy!  The kids got a trophy in the category of Inspiration because of some of the ways they support and promote FLL and the South Dakota Robotics Association in Sioux Falls.

As you can tell, "We Have Fun" might be their favorite Core Value. 
Also, Christmas Lights should be added to this team's values.
The trophy is the red thing in the front center.

OK, back to my hair loss.

Despite the short haircut, the process of my hair falling out was still traumatic. I was able to get away with hats for Monday and Tuesday of this week, but Wednesday, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and wear my wig for the first time. I was really self-consious about it, but I posted this picture on Facebook and everyone was really nice about it.

Despite the goofy look on my face... 
which my mom & brother both commented on. So much love!

After wearing the wig for a full day, I decided it was time to shave my head. The hair falling out is MESSY! It is just gross, and it gets everywhere, so I had Matt buzz my head (which I said I wouldn't do, but desperate times and all...)

Honestly, neither of us enjoyed this process. I think it may have been as hard on him as it was on me. I looked at it in the mirror afterward, and it was so patchy and weird looking. I decided to take a shower, and it was still falling out, but more like whiskers, but it made it even more patchy and weird looking, so I shaved it. Myself. In the shower. Yes, there were tears.

I got out and used a towel to dry my head- a towel I will be able to reuse for the first time in a week! I told Matt that I needed him to still think I was beautiful. He assured me that he does. I rubbed some soothing coconut oil into my scalp, as he reminded me of all the sexy bald white women in movies like "V for Vendetta."  I said I was thinking of "G.I .Jane," and a creative plan emerged.

Here are my celebrity knock-off photos. Enjoy. (and excuse my terrible Photoshopping skills)

Here's my Demi Moore, with one notable exception...

My arms are significantly longer than Natalie Portman's

Sinead O'Connor is just beautiful. 
And yes, I shopped in stubble on my head.

And then I put my glasses on, and let's face it. I look like this guy.