Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29

Would you like to see what I have accomplished in a week? I will show you.

Yup. That's a quart of cream. Down the hatchet.

Go, me!

So, here's a funny story... As I was preparing for the big week o' recovery, I had thought to myself "Since I won't be able to eat like a normal person (by which I mean: no fried chicken and/or ice cream cones for a while, as I will be unable to open my mouth to take a bite of anything), I'll probably lose some weight while I'm in recovery." - And then I planned a menu and I went shopping.

What was on the menu?

Cracked wheat cereal, which I love. ... And one of the things I love best about cracked wheat cereal? It's so freaking good for you that it practically begs to be doused in half-and-half or cream.

And, people, I have eaten a lot of cracked wheat. We're talking three triple batches in less than a week. That's some serious fiber intake. (A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to offset the effects of the percocet.)

Three triple batches of cracked wheat cereal translates into some serious cream consumption.

(Also, I may or may not (read: definitely do) love to pour cream into my hot chocolate. And I am a HUGE proponent of the Hot Chocolate as a Meal Replacement Plan.)

What I'm saying is, I love cream. (It is, after all, the literal building block of the butter-based food group.) And I did have a whole quart of it at my disposal, so there was no reason whatsoever to exercise any self-control.

So much for those pants that I had thought might be fitting a little bit better by the end of the week... But oh well. If it can't be bacon that's making me soft and squishy, it might as well be cream.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 28

Tomorrow, my week long work reprieve is over.

Next year, I'm going to take a full week off work and do something fun and go somewhere beautiful. That's right, next year, I'm going to take an actual vacation. (No more of this taking time off to have surgery. I am OVER that work-release plan, in a big way!)

Don't get me wrong, I have been soooooo grateful that I'd planned this week off at the beginning of the year. And I am soooooo grateful that the bank let me keep this week that I had scheduled, even though I'd missed 8 weeks this summer on a medical leave. It has been a blessed relief, all week, to know that I had this time to heal without stress or worrying about work.

Seriously, I have been so (SO!) grateful - all week long - that I could nap when I needed to, alternately hold an ice pack or a heat pad to my face while it healed, and just hang out here in my cozy little apartment.

I love my apartment. I love my home. I do. I love it.

I love the view from my couch, both into my kitchen and out to the pool.


I love the red wall that my couch is up against. I love that as I lie on my couch, I can look up and see pictures of people that I love.

I enjoy spending time here, in the three rooms that I have to call my own. I have healed in this little apartment, in many ways, over the course of the past several years. I love my home.

I have always loved it here, but in the last several months, being in this specific corner of this apartment complex in Mesa, AZ - having been able to stay in my home - has meant the world to me.

When I found out, in January, that I had a new tumor, one of my very first thoughts was "Where will I live?". Beyond not having a treatment plan and not knowing if the bank would be able to give me a medical leave, I wasn't sure what was coming - or how in the world I was going to be able to afford it when it came. Over the past two years, I've had multiple friends and family members open their homes to me and offer to let me move in with them. I have been so grateful for the support system that I have, for the fact that there are people who would sacrifice a corner of their comfort, of their home, to help me. But I have always wanted to be here, among my things, in my tiny little apartment.

And I have been able to stay.

Thanks to so many of my friends and my family, and to a bunch of strangers - including the homeless man who emptied his pockets when my friend Kimmie told him about the girl they were doing a fundraiser for - I have been able to stay.

I've been able to stay in this little 600 sq ft apartment that I love so much, where I am surrounded by pictures and books and movies that I love. I have been able to sleep in my bed, in my room, where I get better rest than I do anywhere else on Earth. I have been able to cook in my tiny little galley kitchen, where you can't open the fridge and a drawer at the same time, lest they smack right into each other. I have had my own itty bitty bathtub with the crack down the middle and the lumpy carpet that I'm sure was never intended to last through seven years with one tenant. I have taken more naps on my couch in the last week - in the last several months - than I can count, and I have been grateful, every time I have woken up, to open my eyes and know that I am home.

This tiny little apartment, literally full to bursting with my things, has been a refuge and a safe haven in an otherwise stormy world.

I'm so grateful that it has been mine. I so enjoy it here.

Thank you, to everyone who has helped in any way this summer. Your generosity has allowed me to be where I wanted to be.

I love it here. I always have. But the love that people have shown me, in helping me find a way to manage what had seemed so unmanageable, has helped me love it even more.

I know that I quote her all the time, but Dorothy was right, "There is no place like home"; I'm so grateful for mine.

Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26

In the way of daily updates, I give you a 3/4 smile (which is the closest I've come to a full smile since Monday morning at 8:03 AM):

Like I said, it's not a full smile. - And it's a crooked/lopsided smile at that. Hooray for having one side of my mouth more sore/swollen than the other! - But at least I can part my lips now.

My chin's looking pointy again, but my neck is still all manner of swollen and if you look closely, you can see that I'm looking a little "jowly". I don't have chipmunk cheeks up high anymore, but I certainly look like I'm packing food for the winter right behind my chin.

Another overnight development (I swear, my face changes shape every time I sleep) - bruising.

I am officially ugly. Look, I will show you:

The puffy jowls I'm sporting? Not only are they swollen, they are also a nice blue-ish green. I have discoloration from just above my jawbone, down through the middle of my neck. Super hot, right?

(Does it crack anyone else up, all the seriously hideous pics and poses I'm posting this week? Honestly, this picture could not be any less flattering. Please don't think I don't know this is not a good look for me.)

Between catnaps on the couch, in my bed or the recliner (anywhere I sit still for 5 minutes or more) and force-feeding myself mashed potatoes and gravy, I am either holding a heat pack to my face or massaging the muscles in my jaw. (Actually touching my face hurts like the devil, but I have been told that's the best thing I can do to relieve tension and ultimately make sure I heal as quickly as possible. And we all know that I believe in doing what my doctors tell me to do, even when I hate doing it.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25

A brief photo essay showing the current state of the union.

I have cheekbones again. (Sort of.)

But I still have no chin.

Don't mind my puffy eyes. It's early yet.

And how about that wet and stringy hair? (At least it's clean!)

(The upside of Nathan not knowing I exist is that he's not seeing me like this.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24

I am down two teeth.

Two really big, pretty disgusting teeth.

(I know this, because they were accidentally shown to me. Ugh. ... Honestly, why ANYONE wants to keep such a thing is beyond me, but apparently, some people do.)

Before I went into surgery, Inge-Lise (my friend who is the nurse at the oral surgeon's office) asked if I would want to keep them. As I shuddered in revulsion and said "Absolutely not", she turned to Jo (my other nurse friend, who happened to by my ride to and from the oral surgeon's office) and asked if she wanted them. Jo smiled and said "Yeah!".

Something about Halloween being just around the corner.

Insert eye roll and gag sound here. Who in the world would make a Halloween craft out of actual teeth? My grody nurse friends, that's who.

Anyway, I'm down two teeth. I'm swollen as all get-out. My pointy chin has all but disappeared, and my face is one giant one-dimensional piece of flesh.

You'll note that even my neck is swollen. I only had my bottom teeth pulled and, yet, I am puffy up to the top of my cheekbones. That little dimple over the right corner of my mouth is as close as I can get to smiling right now. (You should see me try to eat. It's hilarious, how small I have to cut food. Then I just shove it in and swallow. There is no chewing.)

As a little comparison/contrast, I give you a pic that was taken Sunday night:

A mere 72 hours ago, I had distinct cheekbones, a jawline and the ability to smile. ... Here's hoping that three-dimensional face will be back by the end of the week.

In the meantime, I am living on mashed potatoes and gravy, lemon yogurt and tepid hot chocolate while I console myself with the knowledge that at least I don't have permanent gauze sewn into my mouth. (You know, like I had it sewn into my bum last summer.)

With a little perspective, chubby cheeks and a swollen neck aren't that bad.

Monday, October 22, 2012

October 22

I am officially 38. I have been for a whole day now. Wahoo!

And how am I going to celebrate my second day in my official late 30's?

I'm getting my wisdom teeth pulled this morning.

That's right. I'm headed to the oral surgeon's office within the hour. He's gonna knock me out, and then go to town on my lower wisdom teeth. ... I'm hoping to walk out of there with my jawbone intact. (Yeah, I'm not kidding. There's a chance he'll have to cut part of it out to get to my teeth.)

Five years ago, when my dentist first went through the description of the jaw/tooth breaking extravaganza that would be my "wisdom tooth experience", I was horrified. I couldn't imagine the pain. ... No, I could imagine it, actually. Which is exactly why I never did it.

And now I have cavities in my left wisdom tooth. And, frankly, both teeth have bothered me since my surgery in June. ("What hasn't bothered me since June?", would be a more apt question at this point in time.) It turns out that what they say is true, when something is wrong with your body... everything is wrong with your body. Trauma makes other issues poke up their little heads up, begging for attention. Well, my teeth have my attention.

So, today I'm getting them pulled. And the weird thing is, I'm not particularly nervous. Do I know my mouth is going to hurt like the devil? Yes, I do. Do I know that I'll be swollen and bruised? Yes, I do. Do I also know that I'll have a bonafide reason to use prescription strength pain meds again? Yes, I do.

Seriously. I am going to be UGLY. The pain is going to be bad. (There's nothing quite like tooth pain.) But by the time noon comes, I'll have taken a couple Percocet and my back, neck, shoulder, arm and head won't hurt. The pain in my left foot will be but a distant memory and I can almost guarantee that I'll be sleeping like the dead. (Nothing makes me sleep like narcotics do. Nothing. They are a blessed, blessed relief in that way.)

I'm out from work all week for recovery. (Per the good doctor, I'll need it.) Awesome.

I know, it's sick, but I am honestly looking forward to being grounded by something again. I've been pushing myself a little too hard in the last couple weeks. Having to stay home and stay down will be good for my body. ... And my mom will be here with me, which will be good for my soul.

Viva la wisdom tooth extraction!

(Check back in 48 hours. I have a gut feeling I won't be quite as excited then. But for now, I'm okay with it. I have my head wrapped around it. It's something I have to do, and the reality is that my body has been through worse. It'll be fine.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21

Four months ago today, I had a surgery that saved my life.


I have really GOT to stop doing that! (By which I mean: growing tumors. I don't plan on stopping having life-saving surgeries when I am in need of one. I'd just rather not be in that position in the first place.)

I plan on writing more about the surgery this week. I haven't taken the time to write about the experience of the surgery itself, in large part, because I have foggier memories of this surgery than I do the other two. ... It was a harder surgery. My body was in more trauma than it had ever been in. And one of the blessings of living in a human body is that when things are really hard on our bodies - when there is significant trauma - our memories won't allow us to fully access how bad that thing was.

My memories of that day, of the following weeks, are clouded. But there are a few things that I remember from that morning, clearly and distinctly:

* My friends and family who would not let me go into surgery without telling me that they loved me.

* The anesthesiologist was ridiculously good looking. (He was also wearing a wedding ring, otherwise I may have given him the same deal I gave Dr. H. You know, the "You save my life, and I will marry you." deal.)

* Dr. G looked totally different with his hair pulled back under a surgical cap.

* The frustration (and fear of the pain that I knew was coming) when the epidural wouldn't work. ... The surgical team spent a good half hour, trying to get the needle in right, but it wouldn't take. Every time the anesthesiologist would insert the needle, I would feel sharp pain or tingles down one side of my body. (Not a sensation anyone would ever WANT to feel, and the the possibility of permanent damage wasn't worth the risk, so they opted to not give me the wished-for (and desperately, desperately) wanted epidural.) The last two things I remember about that morning are the surgical nurse having me lean into her body, while she held my shoulders with her hands and held me still while the anesthesiologist tried, for the last time, to insert a needle into my spine, and the anesthesiologist rubbing my arm as he tied it down, telling me that I had done good. I remember thinking I had done well, not good, as I thanked him for trying. I had tears streaming from, oddly, my left eye as I went under anesthesia.

* I remember waking up blind, unable to see anything but light, and having to orient myself by listening really carefully to the voices around me.  With nothing but light around me, I wasn't sure where I was, what world I was in. I remember lying really still, not even aware that I was breathing, and then hearing my brothers talk,  and picking their voices out one by one, thinking, "I made it through surgery. Now comes the really hard part."

Last week, I had a friend ask me how old I would be on my birthday. When I answered 38, his response was, "I remember that age, thinking that the world was mine to conquer". I smiled and told him that I'm just glad that I'll be 38. I don't want to conquer the world, I just want to enjoy it.

Four months ago, I had a surgery that saved my life.

Today, I turn 38.

I'm so grateful for another birthday, for being another year older, for the life that I have and the people that are in it. (Also, for the perfect excuse that a birthday is to eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 20 - late

I spoke. Twice. ... Neither talk went exactly the way I would have wanted it to, but I had prayed beforehand that I would know what to say, and that I would say that thing over what was written on my yellow paper, so I'm okay with how it turned out.

The workshops were less well attended than they had thought they would be. I spoke with my friend who was on the committee and she said there were 89 people in the cultural hall when we started. (They had expected over 200.) There were about 10 workshops every 45 minutes, so none of the classes were jam packed. I had between 10 and 15 people in both workshops I taught, which wasn't the crowd I'd been expecting (again, it wasn't the crowd the committee had been expecting, either... there was a brunch before the workshops and you should have SEEN all the food that was leftover!), but I do so enjoy being the center of attention, so I'll take what I can get.

Most of my family came to listen to me speak. Spencer and Brea brought their two youngest. It was an interesting experience to talk about the cancer; specifically, about how hard physically it has been, with my 8 yr old nephew staring up at me with his beautiful, wide eyes. At the end of that first session, I spoke directly to him and thanked him for coming, as I told him that I hoped he would always remember that I had had cancer, but that I had always been me, too; that I had always had candy at my house, that I had always loved him, that I had always made an effort to choose happiness. I told him that when I was almost his exact same age, I'd had an aunt who had cancer, too, that she taught me those things and that they have been invaluable to me. ... If there is anything in the world I would hope to  give my nieces and nephews, it would be what my aunt Kathy gave me.

I spoke more about the physicality of the cancer than I did the emotions, in both sessions. That was not my intent. I spoke more about the medical side, the diagnosis to the surgeries and the recoveries that I had planned to. The upside is that I got to look out at a group of people when I said the words "22.5 tumor" and see the shock register. The downside is that I wasn't able to share as many of the emotionally impactful experiences that I had wanted to. ... It takes a long time to give even a brief travel log of the doctors I've seen and what my body has been through. I can't believe that I thought 45 minutes would be hard to fill. ... I didn't even scratch the surface of what I had intended to say.

As I told my brother, Kirk, yesterday afternoon, the beauty of not getting to say what I wanted to say there, is that I can say it here. There, I had a limited timeframe and was going off the spirit of what I should say. Here, I also go off the spirit and feel my way into what I write, but I have unlimited time in which to say/write what I want or need to say. (Read: Go get a snack. This is gonna be a long one.) I know that what I said this afternoon, and how I said it, was impactful to people in the groups. I know this, because I was approached, privately, by several of them afterwards and they spoke to specific points of what I had said (things that were NOT written on my yellow paper, but came out of me anyway). I am grateful for the opportunity speak publicly. I am equally grateful for the opportunity that I have to catalogue things here, for a readership who takes a genuine interest in my life and what I have to say.

So, for those of you who weren't there - and for those of you who were, but didn't get to hear what I had planned to say, because I was so busy talking about what was coming into my mind at the time - I give you what I what I would have said, had I gone off my notes:

When I think back on the last two years, there are four key life lessons that come back to me:

1) Be there. When you know a friend needs you. When you are invited somewhere, be it a birthday party, a Primary program or a friend's house for dinner. Make an effort. Show up. You never know what will matter, what people will remember years from now. Whenever and wherever you can, be there.

2) Show love. In a multitude of ways, because it's important that everyone you love can feel that - and people feel/receive love differently. Say you love them. Show them you love them. Hug them, kiss them. Smother people with love. (I mean, it's infinitely better to smother a person with love than with a pillow, right?)

3) Say thank you. All the time, to everyone. Every chance you get. Because the reality is, there are people helping you or doing things that have a positive impact on your life that you aren't aware of. So, when you recognize kindness, acknowledge it.

4) Celebrate everything. I mean, everything. Whether it's a milestone in your life, a reconnection with an old friend, National Ice Cream Cone Day, a clean scan or the first day of beautiful Fall weather. Recognize the important events/days/people in your life, and celebrate them.

Showing up, showing love, showing gratitude and celebrating life are what it is all about, I have decided. And I intend to do those things for the rest of my life, as well as I can do them.

*Insert travel log story of the last two years of my health history here. (Again, if you don't know said history, refer to June 16th. That post came as close to "summing it up" as I ever have.)*

I've had several conversations in the last few weeks revolving around the world, "vulnerable". Often, that word has a negative connotation. I would like to submit that vulnerability isn't necessarily negative. It can actually be quite the opposite, as it is only through being vulnerable/open that we can be made complete/whole.

With a little reframing of that word, I think it can be seen as an opportunity for growth and healing, rather than a place where you feel powerless and separated from your peers and loved ones.

When you have absolutely no control over an area of your life, you have to learn to acquiesce and give it over. This year, I came to a place in the my life where I knew what I needed - and it was everything. I needed everything. I didn't have job security, in that I was a new hire with a small company and I wasn't sure if a medical leave could be arranged. I didn't have Short Term Disability insurance to bring in any income while I was out of work, and was at risk of losing my health insurance if I couldn't keep my job (which was a very real possibility, considering the size of the company and my short time with them). I didn't have savings. I had no one in my home to talk to in the dark, worried, sleepless hours of night. I did have cancer. I had nothing but a diagnosis and a knowledge of the surgery that  was to come, along with uncertainty in what I would do once I got there. I was vulnerable. In every sense of the word - and I could not get away from that feeling. So I did what I have always done. I wrote.

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote - and ultimately asked for help in the one area I knew I most needed it. (See June 16, 2012.) And that help came. My hole was filled. - And I'm not just talking about the Money Pit of Cancer hole. - Multiple holes were filled as a direct result of me recognizing and acknowledging that I needed help, and asking for it.

I reached out with two hands, and hundreds of hands reached back.

Had I not been so open to knowing what I lacked, could I have recognized the blessings when the help came flooding in? I think not.

Vulnerability is hard. It is scary. We want to have a sense of control in our lives, like that control is what will make us happy. I would like to submit my theory that the very act of giving up that control, opening yourself up to feel all of the things you need to feel, will ultimately do more for you than keeping a lid on it ever would have.

I needed help. I asked for it. I got it.

As humans, we all struggle with vulnerability. That mixed emotion of hope and fear is familiar to us all, yet uniquely individual at the same time. Speaking specifically to single adults, we have a vulnerability that our married ward and family members do not have. They cannot understand the particular vulnerability of being single, because they aren't in our circumstances. More specifically, they aren't us - they don't live in our bodies and have our experiences and our feelings. They literally cannot understand us, in the same way that we cannot understand them. But the Lord does understand. He understands all of us, our circumstances, everything we think and everything we feel. I testify that the Atonement covers not only our sins and imperfections, but our infirmities as well. Turn to Him. Use the Atonement. Let yourself be truly vulnerable. Be open. Ask for what you need and TRUST Him - and the people in your life - to give you what you need.

He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) Abundance is perception. (Says the girl  with the 600 sq ft apartment, 11 yr old car - with a tape deck - and little to no money, because she has spent it all on her health. ... Says the girl who also has more love in her life than she knows what to do with.) 

Men are that they might have joy. He came that we might have a more abundant life.

Joy is a choice. Abundance - the awareness, the perception, and our own personal definition thereof - is also a choice.

May we all be a little bit better in recognizing what it is that we do we have, in choosing joy, that we might have a more abundant life. With all my heart, I believe that is what He would want us to do.

October 20

Last week, I had dinner with some girlfriends, my sister-in-law, Brea, among them. During dinner, Brea asked me if I knew what I was going to say next Saturday (today). I told her I wasn't sure. She then asked if I thought I'd give the same presentation in both sessions I'm speaking in. Again, I told her that I wasn't sure.

Ladies and gentlemen (I like to think there's at least one man, who's not related) who reads this, I am on the five hour countdown and I'm still not sure what I'll say, and whether or not I'll repeat myself in my second session or go rogue and do something totally different.

... And I'm not even one little bit worried.

This is why: I have been making a mental list (we know I love lists) for weeks now of the experiences I would want to share, of the things that have changed not only my body, but my life. (Who's kidding who? I've been making that list for months and years, and a lot of those experiences are catalogued here, at Cancer Girl Central.)

I had an experience last week that gave me an opportunity to go from Point A (the cough that lead me to the doctor with Tumor #1 aka: Darth Vader) to Point ZL (where I am right now). I had an acquaintance, who had time and a genuine interest in knowing the history, ask me some questions and I was able to speak to the experience for over 30 minutes without breaking. With the lack of both time and energy I've been dealing with this week, an opportunity to sit down and craft a well-written presentation has eluded me. (When a medical professional sends a girl home and tells her that she needs to lie down and be still for the rest of the day, she does it. And then, when she still feels like she was hit by the train the next day, she does it again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. ... Welcome to my world, esp this week.)

I have not had the energy to put together a slide show. I have no visuals. (Uh, except myself.) I don't even have poster board. (I heart poster board and had been planning on putting key points on poster board so I could have them up there, in front of a room.)

But what I do have is me. As well rested and as strong as I possibly can be. ... And years of experience, and a whole lot of life - a fabulous, blessed and charmed life - to share.

I may not know exactly what I'm going to say, but I have a message to share and, again, I am so grateful for the opportunity to do that.

I am Cancer Girl: Stronger than cancer, faster than fear.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19 - late

In the way of an health update, I just wanted to share that I got the results of my blood work this afternoon:

Kidney Function: Normal
Thyroid Function: Normal
Iron Count: Normal
Triglycerides: High.

The good news is, I am not anemic. I can now go into my oral surgeon's office Monday morning, confident that him pulling two teeth (and the subsequent loss of blood) won't have a negative impact. (Read: kill me.)

The bad news is, if my triglycerides are high, they're gonna try and make me stop eating butter and/or bacon. Again. (I hate it when they test my cholesterol. Hate it. I'd almost rather have a new tumor than high cholesterol, because with the cancer everyone's like "eat whatever you want, you have CANCER!", with high cholesterol it's a different story.)

I'm glad my kidney, my thyroid and my blood are all fine. I mean, I am super duper glad. ... I am a little frustrated, because this means that we're back to square one as far as figuring out why I'm dizzy, light-headed and get tired so easily/quickly, but at least I know it's not my blood.

Funny story: My primary care doctor and I were chatting on Wednesday, and she was coming up with reasons I might be having dizzy spells (I get head rushes like nobody's business and try to always have a wall close or a counter to lean against in case I get extra woozy). Her theory for the low blood pressure and dizziness was dehydration. ... Ya know, I might buy that if I wasn't drinking between 64-100 oz of water a day. ... When I explained to her that it's not POSSIBLE that I could be dehydrated and gave her the low down on exactly how much fluid goes into this body on a daily basis, she amended her theory.

I walked out of the doctor's office with three prescriptions: migraine medication (I've been tingling a lot this week, and that's never a good sign), muscle relaxers (the theory is that tight/sore muscles in my neck and upper back are possibly what is causing the headaches, I am to take muscle relaxers before hitting the migraine meds) and a happy pill (I have no idea what kind of antidepressant this is... she just called it "a happy pill".) Do I feel depressed, emotionally? No. Am I having trouble sleeping? No. ... But I am flat out exhausted and my body has been through the ringer, so if her happy pill will help me feel a little more energized, I will take it. She also gave me a B12 shot.

So, we still don't know why I'm tired. I am pretty sure I'm tired because my body's been in a constant state of recovery for a couple years now, and it just takes time to get back to 100%. (At this point, I'd be thrilled if I could have 72%, but I'll take whatever I can get.)

This week has been hard. In part, physically, because I did a lot over the weekend last week, so I didn't have the down time I usually have to recover. It has also been difficult, emotionally, in that I had not one, but two, medical professionals have freakouts about my energy levels. I am used to being tired, moving slowly and being a little dizzy. This is my normal. I wish it wasn't, but it is. ... To have my PT and my doctor both coming at me, telling me that my normal is NOT normal (or safe, or okay) threw me off in a major way. I know they care about me. I know they want to help me, and I know they were just expressing concern at my overall fatigue.

I almost wish I was anemic or that my thyroid was out of whack, because it would explain so much. But both my blood and my thyroid are fine. ... I don't know why my little body gets so tired. I wish it didn't. I wish I could just lie down and take a nap for a week. Maybe that would help.

Tell you what, I'm gonna try it. Next week, when my wisdom teeth are gone and the hard drugs are back in my life, I will sleep. Maybe a solid week of nothing but smoothies and naps will fix me right up. ... It's worth a shot, right?

October 19

I woke up at 3:17 this morning. Why I woke up, I am not sure. ... Maybe I tried to roll over. Maybe it was just a natural stirring. Maybe there was a dog barking. I don't know. I have no memory of what woke me up in the first place. But I can tell you, for certain, why I have been unable to fall back asleep.

The conference workshops are tomorrow. I get to speak tomorrow. ... And I'm so flipping excited that I can hardly stand myself.

Also, I'm oddly hungry for it being the middle of the night.

But beyond the hunger, I am awake because my mind is literally racing with things I want to say tomorrow. Last night, I got my yellow pad of paper out and started making some actual notes (yeah, 36 hours before speaking - when I've had almost two months to prepare - this is how I roll), and I have been swimming in memories all night long. As I made a timeline of important events in the last two+ years, I have been so grateful that I have written so much of it down. I'm so grateful that I have a written record of what has happened, how I have felt, what my body has been through...

I had forgotten, until I read it last night, that I couldn't eat grapes when I was doing radiation. They made me violently ill. The only fruit/vegetable I could keep in me while I was doing treatments were carrots, and I could eat four baby carrots a day. Any more than four, and I would be sick, but I could eat four of them. They were the only "sweet" thing I ate for almost two months. ... I can't believe I'd forgotten that.

As I read what I had written in the summer of 2010, I was amazed at the visceral memories that came back to me. I have had to relearn to walk three times now, but it has never been as difficult to find my balance as it was after that first surgery. There are still tasks that are hard on my weak little body, but opening my silverware drawer doesn't make me wince anymore.

In the spring of 2011, I was so hopeful that Tumor #2 would be the end of the Cancer Madness. I remember the day that Dr. W told me I would probably have to do chemo. ... I also remember the day that he told me that I wouldn't have to do it, and why; that day was a game changer.

This time last year, my life was shifting in a big way and I took that for a sign that my health issues were behind me, and I was off to a brighter, healthier (and less medically expensive) future.

And thus we see why we are told not to be sign seekers.

On New Year's Eve of 2010, I wrote that I had known more love that year than I had ever known before. I wrote, for the first time, about what I like to call the George Bailey Effect, and how amazed I had been, and how grateful I was, for the dozens of people who had come out of the woodwork to let me know they remembered me, and cared about what was happening in my life.

Those dozens of people in 2010 have multiplied and morphed into hundreds of people in 2012. I have been astonished at the number of people who have reached out to me. Many of them are friends from my past, some of them are the friends of my friends, and a few have been perfect strangers who found my blog through a search, and then took the time and spent the energy to find me in real life.

What I have learned is this: Life is - love is - cumulative.

The relationships that I spent years cultivating have blessed my life in ways that I never dreamed they would, in ways that I could not have imagined I would need them to. Friends from my childhood and young adult years have come back to me. Both my immediate and extended family have been there for me, physically emotionally and spiritually. The love I have sent out into the world has come back to me, tenfold.

Having had to live in this body in the last two years has taught me a lot of things: the value of high powered pain pills and stool softeners, not to take anything (or anyone) for granted, to enjoy life as much as I possibly can on every single day that I've been given. (I may or may not mention the stool softeners tomorrow. Only time will tell.)

I am so looking forward to speaking to the experience that the cancer has been. It has been difficult, sometimes horrifically so. But the payout - the life experience, the service that has been rendered and the love that I have been shown - has offset the pain and hardship. I wouldn't go so far as to say "I would do it all again", but I can say, for certain, that I am grateful for the experience, because it has changed me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October 17

I just received the following text from my good friend, Jo:

"In the way of super cute things my children do, I was just helping Sally say her bedtime prayer, and I said, "Bless Laurie." She stopped, looked up at me with a quizzical look and said, "Which Laurie?"

- I must break to explain that Jo has a sister named Laurie and their neighbor across the street is also named Laurie. These poor kids are inundated with Lauries in their lives, so you can understand why sometimes they have to stop and ask which of us is the topic of current conversation.

"I said, Laurie Evans." She nodded her head, closed her eyes and said, "Bless Laurie Evans." It was adorable."

After PT yesterday, I feel like my body is broken. My muscles and my bones ache, I'm so tired that I can't see straight, and I'm on hold until Friday to get some (possible) answers for why I'm so fatigued. ... But tonight, I will sleep well. And tomorrow I'm sure I will feel at least a little bit better. Because I know that a two-year-old is praying for me. By name.

I've said it before, and I am sure that I'll say it again... I have been saved by the prayers of my friends and family. I am as sure of that as I am of anything else in my life. Thank you, to all of you who have prayed for me, and especially to those of you who have asked your children to do the same. I could not possibly live my life without your faith and support. I love you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 16

Here is the latest and greatest PT report:

My shoulder still doesn't work. She's even more sure now that it's related to my missing guts. ... Too bad I can't grow new guts on my left side. I'm starting to think that might be easier than physical therapy.

Also, I'm having some SI joint issues. I've been tasked with hitting the maternity department at Target, looking specifically for the belt that fastens twice. I need something (beyond the binder) that I can wrap around my lower back to give me strength that I don't have on my own. ... I heart eating Target's popcorn for dinner, so stopping there on my way home from work tomorrow shouldn't be a problem.

Furthermore, it appears that the issues I'm having with my right shoulder blade may be impacting the upper trap connection and giving me headaches. (Fantastic!) My left shoulder and curve of my neck froze up today during one of the stretches (my body loves to compensate/cheat when the muscle group I'm trying to work isn't functioning), so Miss Lee took some time to rub that side of my neck and see if she could work that out. As her thumb went up the inside of my neck, my head was suddenly in a vice and I almost screamed out loud. I've had some serious headaches for the past week or so, and in the last two days have had tingling sensations in my left arm, so I asked her if that area could be linked to a migraine headache. (I don't get a full-blown migraine very often, but when I do, it manifests very much like a stroke. First I tingle, and then I lose all sensation on that side of my body. I lose motor function and language until the meds kick in. I haven't had a really bad one in over five years, but the headaches, neck pain and recent tingling have me a little concerned.) When I told her exactly where it hurt for her to push, she said "Oh, that doesn't surprise me, because that nerve is connected to your upper traps, and we know those aren't working right." ... Fantastic.

Oh, and I am showing symptoms of low iron/anemia. I may or may not have (read: definitely did) almost fall down twice in PT today. The first time, I was getting up off the bed after the last round of brutal stretches and just fell/leaned against a wall when I started to tip over. The second time, I was trying to do a stretch she had modeled, using the counter as a holding spot, and I lost my balance and pitched forward, catching myself by putting my hands on my knees. Neither of these moments surprised me at all. I have been a faller for years, and esp lately, have had a hard time keeping my balance. I have chalked my recent lack of balance and general tipsy-ness up to being tired all the time. ... Turns out I may be tired all the time because I might not have enough iron in my blood. (Getting that checked tomorrow.) Also, my blood pressure is a little low. (Got that checked today.)

Lee, my sweet little torture chamber lady (aka: physical therapist), has some concerns. I mean, it's no good for anyone to be anemic, it is true, but with my oral surgery next week, she wants to make darn sure that if and when I lose some blood, I'll still be okay. Bless her for that.

I have an appointment with my primary care doctor tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure she'll do a general blood work up. Miss Lee is going to talk to Dr. S, another doctor at MD, and see if she can't get me in this week, too. Lee's concern goes beyond making sure that I have enough in my blood now, she wants to make sure that I have the supplements I'll need for next week (and possibly beyond) when I won't be able to get nutrients from food - as I won't be able to chew/eat like a normal person after having my wisdom teeth out.

The good news is, I may have validation on being so tired all the time. I mean, I've been tired for A LONG TIME. Like, years. My little body has been through the ringer and back with all the surgeries, so I tend to fall back on "recovering from surgery" as the reason for being too tired to do all the things I want to do. Turns out there's a very real possibility that part of why I'm so tired is that something is missing in my blood. That's not really what a girl wants to hear, but the good news is that there is something that can be done if it's my blood. Viva la supplements! ... Here's hoping they can give me something that'll work, and fast. Because it's only Tuesday and I'm so tired that I literally almost fell over (twice) this afternoon, and I've been down flat since I got home from PT. I have too much to do this week - oh, and for the rest of my life - to be this tired all the time.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October 15

I have PT again tomorrow.

The upside of knowing that my arm may get twisted out of its socket and or my core might think it's going to explode, depending on what she wants to make my body do? ... I'm leaving work at noon for a 1:00 appointment, and I don't have to go back afterwards.

I tell you, there's an upside to just about anything if you look for it!

Last night, I had Sunday dinner - as per the usual - at Jo's house. I made some reference to me not being very strong. Rook, the sweet 11 yr old boy that he is, said, "That's not true, Laurie. I'll bet you're stronger than me!" (Love that kid. He so wants to make people happy and help them feel good about themselves. Too bad I know I am a weakling.) I just laughed and said, "Rook, You're sweet, but I'm here to tell you that I am not strong. Maggie is for sure stronger than me, and Sally probably is, too." (Maggie is 4 and could totally take me. Sally is 2, and I think she could, too.) Rook just laughed and was like, "Whatever". I said, "Seriously, Rook, watch this. I can't even lift my arm." I put my right arm out in front of me and tried to lift it to my head. I got a good 45 degree angle, but then it was frozen. Rook's eyes went wide and he said "You really can't lift your arm higher than that?" Roomie, who had been sitting to my right, asked in a concerned voice, "How did that happen?" When I answered, "They aren't sure. All I know is, something happened during surgery", she was incredulous. And then Cili caught on to what we were talking about and, looking at my 45 degree angled arm, spewed, at top volume, "YOU CAN'T TOUCH YOUR EAR WITH YOUR ARM?!" Uh, no, C. No, I cannot. And then, still beyond bothered, she looked at my crooked, outstretched, arm and whispered, "Can you even straighten your elbow?" Sadly, the answer there, again, would be no.

I do so love that I'm almost four months out of surgery and my wonky arm is what had multiple children raising their voices at the dinner table last night.

So, here's the most report, as of my last PT appointment:

I now have a rib hump. (Sounds glamorous, right? ... It's not. I'll tell you about it.)

As you well know, we've been working on the muscle groups around my shoulder, around the top and back of my arm, and the muscles that go across my right shoulder blade for some time now.

As of about a month ago, my right shoulder blade started to sort of float towards the outside of my body. It's hard to explain, but it's visibly NOT where it's supposed to me. (If you want to see a freak show, come on over and I'll take my shirt off and raise my right arm - at a 45 degree angle, because that's about as good as it gets - so you can see that bone jut out of the side of my body. Like any good circus side show, it's grotesque, but fascinating at the same time.)

When I went to my last PT appointment, I shared my frustration with her that I didn't feel like I had been making progress and that my shoulder blade, in particular, seemed to be getting worse. She told me that she had an idea for something that might help stabilize my shoulder blade (taping my shoulder blades together, which necessitated me taking my top off), and asked if I would be uncomfortable taking my shirt off in front of her so she could watch my muscle groups work as I went through the motion.

Like I have a visible muscle group anywhere in my body, least of all in my abdominal area... But whatever.

At her request, I turned away from the mirror so I wouldn't be able to look at my body while she had me go through a couple exercises. First I took my shirt off. She raised an eyebrow, pursed her lip and said "I wondered about that...". She came and stood in front of my and traced my scar with her finger so she could get a better idea of how and where it was (it's a crooked scar in the first place, but all the extra skin around it makes it all wavy and weird in some places), then she asked if I would raise my arms over my head. I did, and she smiled and nodded, and said "I thought so!" At that point, while my arms were still in the air, she asked me to turn really slowly and look in the mirror so I could see my posture.

Holy moses! My back was arched in an effort to throw my right shoulder back to where it "should" be and my torso was visibly twisted.

Hello, rib hump!

Apparently, the right side of my body has been compensating for the lack of weight/organs on the inside of the left side of my body by torquing my upper body.

I am not kidding. My back was curved and my abdomen was divided - upper half torquing to create a balance, lower half stuck straight forward.

She had me lower my arms and then raise them again, this time watching myself do it. When I had a conscious awareness of what I was doing and how I moved, it was much less noticeable, but I was still visibly twisting to create balance.

How in the world missing guts in the left side of my stomach could have made my right shoulder blade get slippery is beyond me, but I'm here to tell you... they did.

My new - totally heinous and practically impossible - exercises to try and bring my right and left sides back into harmony are:

Leaning against a wall, knees bent in an almost sitting position, with my hands clasped and my arms and head/neck stretched down and to the left. I then slowly stand and bring my arms to the right and over my shoulder while I lean/roll against the wall until my right shoulder blade is pressed up against the wall. I hold that as long as I can, then relax and curl back down to the left. Rinse and repeat three times.

I do this same stretch/movement lying on my back, but with a rolled up towel behind me, parallel with but just outside my spine. ... Hurts like the devil.

Also, lying on my side with my arm positioned straight over my head, head lying on that arm to anchor it, while I try (I say try, because, while I've made worthy efforts, it is hard) to push my bent legs over from a curled (because I'm lying on my side) to a knees-bent, but up position. In theory, I should be able to have both arms above my head while I do this, but the searing pain around my bellybutton won't let me do that. (Which I find interesting, as my bellybutton has been dead for almost two years. Why I can feel this stretch, I do not know - but feel it, I do.)

The theory is that I have muscle groups that are tight because I've been holding myself in compensatory positions, and that if we can stretch/release those muscle groups, everything should be able to shift back to where it should be - or at least get closer to where it should be.

These exercises, combined with taping my shoulder blades together, made for an absolutely BEASTLY week last week. (I cannot even tell you how many muscle groups I feel stretch when I wake up in the mornings now. It's a little ridiculous.) I wore the tape on my shoulders for just about a week.

I'll show you a pic of the tape. When she told me what she wanted to do, I had no idea what that would look like or how it would work. It's actually pre-fabbed medical tape. You can buy it in medical stores (or on Amazon) and it comes with instructions on exactly how and where to place it.

How 'bout that black bra? I mean... for the very first Cancer Girl lingerie shot ever, I thought I'd be a little daring.

I could really feel the difference it made in the first 3 or 4 days. Towards the end of the week, I wasn't really feeling it, but I took the tape off last Friday and almost died from the pain in my arm all day. The soreness and residual pain that I KNOW was associated with the tape and removal thereof is mostly gone, but so is a lot of my range of motion, too. Wearing the tape isn't a long term fix, but it did certainly help me get some motion back, so I'm curious to find out if she wants to do that again tomorrow.

You know I'll tell you all about it. Maybe I'll even take more pics. (The other piece of medical tape I have is black. They were out of "nude" when I ordered online. The back of a black bra AND black medical tape? Oooh. La. La.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14

I love this day. ... I have loved this weekend.

Yesterday morning, I'd woken up, thinking that I had a week left to decide what I'm going to say at the conference on the 20th. (Note that I've known about this since Labor Day weekend, and I'm still not sure what I'll say. I am super awesome like that.) As I realized that I was on the six day countdown yesterday, I actually got a little nervous. I thought maybe I should get a little structure in my life and come up with a plan. ... For about ten minutes, I was afraid that I wouldn't have anything to say. I wasn't sure if I was gonna be able to go 45 minutes without getting boring. (Worst. Nightmare. Ever.) But there was somewhere I needed to be, so I stopped worrying about it and got myself there. As I settled in for a two hour appointment, in which I knew I would be lying perfectly still, my friend who was working on me asked me to tell her about my cancer. So, I did. I talked and I talked and I talked and I talked (you can imagine). And just when I got to the part of how I have a love/hate relationship with the cancer (mostly it's pure hatred... but I do love it for what it has shown me, in regards to how blessed I am, and how good people are), I realized that I had been talking for 45 minutes.

There went any worry that I would run out of stuff to say. (Like that was a legit concern in the first place. Really, Evans, you thought you'd run out of words? Really?)

And then she gave me feedback on what I had said. She told me she would have never thought I was sick. She told me that she loved that I could find humor in this hard thing that has happened, that she could tell that this particular struggle has brought me peace.

That is exactly what I would want anyone to know - or feel - when I talk about what the cancer has done for me. Gone are any concerns or worries I had felt that I cannot do what I need to do next week. G-O-N-E, gone. ... I do so love it when life hands me the very experience I need to have, so I can know that I'm on the right path.


My cousin Shelly is in town this weekend for a family function on her husband's side of the family, and we've been trying to meet up for days. This morning, I woke up and my first thought was "text Shelly - now", so I did. She responded right away that she was glad I was up (it was around 7:00), and said that she and Scott would like to come to my church, so they could see me.

(Wow, they're good, right? They go to church when they are on vaca. ... I am not sure if we're actually related.)

As I walked down the sidewalk into the church parking lot, I heard a car door shut and a familiar voice call out, "COUSIN!", and I felt a rush of love that I cannot quantify. That is one of my favorite words, it is one of my favorite titles - and all of the people who call me that are people I love. Shelly and I met in the middle of the parking lot. We hugged, we talked. ... And then we walked into church, late. ... The congregation was singing the third verse of Count Your Many Blessings, and I remember thinking that it was too bad I had missed the beginning of the song, as it's one of my favorites. We sat down and I started to sing. Shelly started right behind me, in harmony, and she sounded so like my mother that it brought tears to my eyes.

I had a hard time getting through the fourth verse without crying, I was so overcome with gratitude for the blessings in my life. Specifically, I was grateful that I was in church - and singing - with my cousin. I remember having two distinct thoughts: "I can't forget to tell Shelly that I count her as one of the blessings in my life" and "How happy would Grammy be, if she could hear us singing this hymn together?"

When the song was over, Shelly leaned over and told me that I sounded like Grammy. (That was a lie, but it was a kind one. So, I thanked her without calling her out.)

When the Sacrament song was announced - I Stand All Amazed - Shelly leaned over again and said "Wow, they sing good songs in your ward!" I smiled and agreed and told her that the chorister is a music teacher, so we usually have pretty good hymn combos. Again, we sang in harmony. Again, I had a hard time choking out some of the words... because I love them so much.

I marvel that He would descend from his throne divine to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine (anyone who knows me knows that I am both rebellious and proud), that He should extend His great love until such as I, sufficient to own, to redeem and to justify. (Today, the words, own, redeem and justify hit me like a ton of bricks.)

I think of His hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt! Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget? No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat, until at the glorified throne, I kneel at His feet. (The punctuation in verse three is a thing of beauty. I can't even type it without welling up.)

The rest hymn - For the Strength of the Hills - was, astonishingly enough, another of my FAVORITE hymns, I got through the first two bars of verse two before another wave of emotion and gratitude hit me:

"... we've borne and suffered long; Thou has been our help in weakness, and Thy pow'r has made us strong"

I especially love the end of that hymn. I love how solid and strong the language and the music are. Whenever I sing that song, I feel bound to my ancestors who really did find refuge in the strength of the hills. I love that my God was their God. I always feel a tie to family, to my history, when I sing that hymn - but singing it with my cousin, a woman with whom I share both my heritage and beliefs, made it that much more impactful today.

The closing hymn was God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand (I can't even type that without hearing the organ pounding behind me). Another favorite, with beautiful - almost painfully beautiful - harmony and accompaniment.

After Sacrament Meeting, I walked Shelly and her family out to their car. (They did go to church on vaca, but it was only for one hour. Maybe we're related, after all!) As I walked back into the building, I ran into Darrell Winder (the chorister) and he stopped me in the hall, saying that he had a story he felt that he needed to share.

Darrell told me that, on Tuesday, he was having difficulty selecting the hymns for the upcoming Sunday. He didn't have the topics for the talks and was having a hard time settling on what to sing, and suddenly his mind was directed to me. To give a little back story - Darrell and I went to high school together, so he has known me for over twenty years. Add time spent with mutual friends years (really, a generation) ago to the years he has been in my ward here in Mesa, and he has known a lot about the big events in my life to date. He told me that my name came into his mind on Tuesday, and he thought about me for a few minutes, remembering who and how I was in high school, and what he knows about me now - years later - and the four songs we sang just came right into his mind. He told me that he hadn't been sure why it was those songs, but that he'd been glad to see me walk in towards the end of the first hymn, because those songs had been chosen for me. He asked if there had been anything that had happened on Tuesday that would have led to his experience with the music. I told him that there hadn't been anything monumental on that day, but that last week as a whole had been hard, and that I had been amazed at how well the songs that we had sung today had resonated with me. I told him that my cousin had been there, that we had even talked about the hymn choices... and that I had been so happy to get to sing multiple favorites today.

Getting to sing songs I love with family was awesome. Hearing the story behind how those songs came to be chosen and grouped together brought me to tears.

Yesterday, I received an email from one of my childhood best friends. She wrote, "I hope you always feel the great love the masses have for you, and feel it the strongest when you need it the most."

I do, in fact, feel the great love the masses have for me - and it is always the strongest when I need it the most. At the end of the week last week, I needed to feel loved and supported. And I had both of those needs met - in spades - from no less than a dozen people in less than 48 hours.

I am so grateful for the sure knowledge that the Lord is aware of what happens in my life. I am so grateful for days like the last two, where everything has lined up and it has been crystal clear to me that I am where I should be, doing what I should be doing, spending time with those who matter the most.

To paraphrase a line from one of my favorite hymns, "I stand all amazed at the love that is offered me".

My goodness gracious, I love my life!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 13

This past week, I received notice that the website for the upcoming LDS Phoenix/Mesa Singles Conference was up and running. This morning, I got the email with the schedule of the speakers.

It is official. It is in print. It is online. ... And now I feel like I can publicly talk about this thing that I have been SO EXCITED about for the last several weeks.

Back in August, I got a phone call from my good friend, Charla, who is on the committee behind the workshops for the conference, asking me if I would be willing to do at least one - with the possibility of more - workshops for the singles conference. Because I have a personality disorder that renders me a fool who actually enjoys (read: loves) public speaking, I jumped at the chance to both help her fill some speaking gaps and tell a small portion of the world my story. (Who loves a captive audience? This girl!)

The theme for the conference is: An Abundant Life, taken from John 10:10: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

The workshop theme is paraphrased from a talk given by Pres Thomas S. Monson:

"Just as we learned the ABC's in school, I offer my own ABC's to help us all gain the abundant life:

A is for having a positive ATTITUDE
B is for BELIEVE in yourself
C is for facing challenges with COURAGE"

I was asked to speak specifically in the capacity of Cancer Girl, to share experiences that I have had in living with - and through - the cancer. I was asked to provide a professional bio and a workshop summary (which was tricky, as I ... uh ... thought it might a little too smart-alecky to use the words "I am a professional cancer survivor" in a bio - oh, and I hadn't written my talk yet ... still haven't, btw).

Charla named the course: "Candid Quips from Cancer Girl: Facing obstacles with humor, candor, and love."

My somehow-brief-and-at-the-same-time-very-wordy bio:

I've been fighting cancer off and on for over two years now. While it has been hard, at times, to declare a true winner in the war of Me v. Cancer, I am currently ahead with a full three months of being tumor-free. I love butter, bacon, good chocolate and tall men.

Synopsis of my presentation:

One of the - very few and far between - gifts of cancer is that is has shown me who and what is of most importance in my life: friends, family, the gospel, humor (when you can't beat something, you need to be able to laugh in its face!) and love. I am so grateful for the clarity that being sick has given me, for my faith, for my support system, for my life.

To see the conference info, click here. (If you want to check out my own personal page, go to Workshop Speakers and click on my pretty little face and it will expand. You'll notice that Charla beefed up my not-so-professional bio and mentioned my everlasting love for both my people and my hometown. She's awesome like that.)

I am so far beyond thrilled at the opportunity to share some of my experiences - from diagnosis to surgery to the miracle of the fundraisers, etc. - with a group of singles from my church, that I can't even begin to explain how I feel. Being asked to speak, and specifically about this thing that has changed me and has brought a deeper awareness and gratitude for all that is good in my life, is both humbling and exciting for me.

I'm torn between having ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what I'll say and knowing that I could talk for HOURS about the exceedingly low lows and high highs that the last two years have brought.

At the end of the day, I am grateful. Grateful for this opportunity to speak in such a forum. Grateful for my life. (Literally. Grateful for my life.) Grateful for all of the people in it, whether they live around the corner, over a state line, across the country, or on another continent. I lead a charmed life - well, except for the cancer thing - and I'm so looking forward to having an opportunity to share even a little bit of that gratitude with a live audience.

It's less than a week away. It's public information. It is print, and it is online. ... I am officially giddy.

As always, a big thank you goes out to my readers - the original 13, and all the new kids on the block, too - for putting up with my parenthetical comments, my run-on (and fragmented) sentences and the general loony-bird style in which I write. Thank you for having an interest in my well-being, in my life.

I have always maintained that I write for myself. It is cathartic. It helps me process. ... Oh, and I love having an outlet that is sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sappy and sometimes downright silly. ... But you, my dear readers, have not only read what I have written, but you  have also shared my stories with your friends - some of whom are now my friends, too. Because I have written what I felt/thought/ate/drank etc., over the past several months, my four tumors and I have had exposure that we would not have had otherwise; and that exposure has put me on the radar of countless more people than I ever would have thought would have an interest in the details of my life.

I started this blog for fun, on a whim, several years ago at the insistence of some girlfriends. It has turned into a lifeline, and has brought more blessings - and more people, and more love - into my life than I ever could have imagined it would. (And, as you well know, I have one heck of an imagination. So, that's saying something.)

I am, as always, so grateful for the ways in which the www has brought me closer to the people that I love, and I am so looking forward to seeing how this opportunity to speak at this conference, with this subject matter, will continue to change things in my life. (Fingers crossed that there'll be at least one tall, single, bacon-loving gentleman in the audience who'll have reeeeeeally good medical benefits and a burning desire to take care of a cancer patient for the rest of her life. ... A girl can always hope, right?)

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12

Today was a long day.

And when I say long, I mean brutal.

I woke up this morning, rolled out of bed and knew this day was going to be a doozy. Before my feet hit the floor, I was hurting. You name it, my shoulder, my ribcage, my neck, my head, my stomach, my back, my right foot. ... I don't know what I did to my body this week, but we are friends off. In a big way.

To put this day into proper perspective, let me say that I usually wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed and am on my way out the door in 30, maybe 35 minutes. It took me almost an hour and a half to get out the door this morning.

My work day was longer than usual. I physically moved around the office more than I typically do. I had to stand, bent at the waist, more than once, as I reviewed reports and corresponding paperwork across a shared desk. The pain I had felt in the morning was eclipsed by the pain of this afternoon.

Shortly after 3:00, I had a clear and distinct thought of, "If I were the kind of person who gave up, this is exactly when I would do it." But I didn't give up. Instead, I went back to my desk and ate a roll with three pre-packaged pats of butter while I reviewed the last bit of work for the day. (Yes, I like to frost my bread with butter. Don't judge.) Oh, and I started to cry - and I didn't stop for about three hours - but I did not give up.

I got home from work just after 5:00. I collapsed in my bed for a few minutes, then got up and got into the shower. After a solid ten minutes of standing under a steady stream of water (read: leaning up against the wall of the shower, because I didn't have the willpower or physical strength to stand on my own), I started to feel a little better. It, again, took almost two hours to get myself out of the shower, dressed and back out the door, but my good friend Ashley got married this afternoon and there was NO WAY I was going to miss her party. I'm glad I was able to make her reception. I love her. I love her family. I also love cupcakes - and they had, like, five different kinds to choose from. (I tried three of the five, in case you wondered.) I'm so glad that I was able to end this long, hard, pain-filled day on a high note, with people (and baked goods) that I so enjoy.

This day has been hard. Lately, I feel like my body and my spirit are at war. What I know is that my spirit will win. It has to. I won't let it not come out on top. (I may have the physical strength of a two year old, but I have an absolutely iron will.)

I knew that going back to work full time would be difficult, and I knew that moving into a new position in a different department would increase the strain on my weak little body. And I will not lie, it has been hard. ... I also know that it will get easier the longer I do it. So, come Monday morning, I'm gonna pick myself up and go right back at it.

But in the meanwhile, I intend to soak up every single minute of my weekend. Every. Single. Minute. (You may quote me.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 11

A few random thoughts I've had today:

Four months ago, this week, I found out about my new little friend and knew that surgery - and a life changing experience - was in my immediate future. My mind reels at how quickly (and how slowly) time has passed this year. It has been the best of times and the worst of times. - But even at it's worst, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I'm really glad that there have always been doctors and narcotics involved when my body has known severe circumstances and extreme pain. I passed not one, but two, grizzly accidents on my way home from work tonight. My heart always goes out to the people I see standing, sitting - or, worst case scenario, on a gurney - at the side of the road, beside their crumpled car. I'm so grateful that I've never been in a real accident. (I mean, sure, I drove into Bashas when I was in high school. And there was the incident where I hit the guy riding the bike. And that cat. And the four dogs. (Just one at a time. Over the course of 20+ years.) And that time that Julie was driving and we were hit and run and I ended up having the mother of all bruises across my chest/abdomen from getting thrown against the shoulder strap. But I haven't ever been in a real, serious accident.) Today, I realized that even though my body has known serious pain and has had to heal from surgeries that I wouldn't wish on anyone, there has always been a level of control in what happened to me. ... Okay, not with the cancer happening. There's no controlling THAT (trust me, I've tried - and it can't be done), but there has always been control in scheduling a surgery. ... There has always been anesthesia. I have always had a skilled physician cutting into my body. There has been control, in that I knew what I was going into and have had an opportunity to make some sort of peace with that before I went under the knife. I have never had a bone broken on impact, or had to deal with the sight of my own blood while I wanted for an emergency response team to arrive. I have never had to comfort children or other passengers, telling them that someone will come and it will be alright. I don't have flashbacks or horrible memories of an auto accident that hurt my body and changed my life. ... I know some people may think I sound nutty, but tonight I am so grateful that it was cancer that wrecked my body and not a car. I'm grateful for the very small element of control I have had in choosing to undergo surgery, for the trust I have always been able to have in my surgeons, for anesthesia that I know will keep me out while the worst is done to my body. Call me cuckoo, but I would take cancer over a car wreck.

I wish ice cream cones had more nutritional content.

There is a mosquito in my apartment. He's been here for almost a week now. (Do you love that I assign the male pronoun to a bug? Sorry about that, Men of the World. I love you, I really do. But bugs - and, oddly, electronics - are male in my book.) I keep seeing him flying around. He lands on my mirror or on the wall in front of me every morning when I'm putting my makeup on. I'm too slow (and, sadly, too weak) to kill him. (I tried, the first few days I saw him. But I kept missing him, and the effort was wearing me out, so I stopped.) I saw him on my blinds this morning and thought maybe he was dead. Nope, he was just asleep. ... I have no idea how he's surviving in here without any food, but he is. I am the only living creature - other than the bug - in my apartment, and he hasn't tried to bite me even one time. I don't know how much longer the bug and I can continue to co-habitate, but he's not biting me and I'm too slow to kill him, so I think I may have a de facto roommate in the making.

What am I gonna watch when I get to the end of Blue Bloods, season 2? Any ideas? ... I'm fresh out.

I actually won something today! (This is something that hardly ever happens in my life, so I'm pretty excited.) My friend Brenda makes handmade candies (chocolate truffles that a person would D-I-E for!). She was running a promotion yesterday that every order that went in before midnight would be entered in a drawing to win $30 of handmade caramels. ... People, I won. She will be in town this weekend and I'll get to collect. I'm super psyched! Note: I will be eating all of these caramels in the next week, before I have to have my wisdom teeth out and lose the ability to open my mouth. Timing is everything and the Universe loves me. Hallelujah and amen!

The lower left side of my back has been cramping up a lot this week. I can't help but think that it can't be normal to have "kidney pain" in an area where there's no longer a kidney. I'm not sure what that's all about. My guess is scar tissue, since I know that they cleared that side of my body back in June. ... My next scan is five weeks from today. Cross your fingers it's just some really pointy, aggravated scar tissue that's poking me in the back.

I am too tired to bend over and paint my toenails. (And that, my friends, is a very sad and pathetic state of tiredness.)

It turns out that "All is well in Zion" is a Mormon saying, and not universally known. Note to self: When you're going to go off on a rant, you want to choose your words wisely, as a rant loses something in the translation when you have to translate it.

Ativan is my best friend.

Hair cutting is addicting. I whacked 6 inches off my hair on Saturday, and I've been fighting myself on a daily basis not to chop more of it off. (Seriously, I have moved my scissors in an effort to hide them from myself.)

I still can't wear heels; but I can walk down the stairs without holding the railing, I can carry a full load of laundry all by myself and I can lift a gallon of milk. They may be baby steps, but I'm glad I can take them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October 9 - Dinnertime

I made dinner.

That's right. I totally George Foreman'd (I do so love to make up verbs) a pork chop tonight. It smelled and looked delicious.

I sat down with my beautiful, fantastic smelling dinner and bowed my head to say a little prayer. As per my usual routine, I thanked God for the food, for the opportunity I have to live in a time and place where such incredible, fresh, food is available. And then I thanked Him for the energy to cook it myself.

And then I ate. And the angels sang.

The dishes are done. The kitchen's been cleaned up.

And now I am exhausted and need to lie down.

But I had enough energy to get through a work day AND make myself something for dinner before I crashed. Improvement is improvement, no matter how incremental.

October 9

Over the long weekend, I:

Took naps
Watched some TV (all of these activities were done from the comfort of my couch)
Cut 6 inches off my hair (I figured I had to do something to make it look a little thicker - hopefully this'll do the trick)
Spent 30 min in Walmart
Spent a couple hours on the phone with my mom (fantasy vacation spots we discussed: Boston, Seattle, DC (again), a train trip through Canada or the North East in the Fall...)
Went to a comedy show on Saturday that I ended up falling asleep during (I'm a real party animal - and no, it wasn't Jester'Z... like I could ever fall asleep if and when Paul Green is onstage!)

Mostly, I did nothing all weekend long.

The only time I left my apartment Saturday was to drive to the comedy show.

Sunday, I did not leave my apartment once all day long. (It was nice to spend over 40 hours straight in my pajamas again.)

Monday, I went to the store early, then couched it for the rest of the day.

Today, the weekend is over and I am headed back to work. Which translates into: I must get dressed and I must leave the house - and stay gone (and awake) for a solid 8 hours (give or take an hour for traffic/travel).

Wish me luck!

Monday, October 8, 2012

October 8

This morning, I had an interesting experience.

I woke up at 6:00 (this is my normal wake up time, but it's amazing how much better I feel at 6:00 AM when I wake up on my own vs. waking up to an alarm), threw on some clothes, and headed to the WalMart. I'd made a list yesterday of some things I needed to get there (some things are monumentally cheaper there, like cereal and Blue Bell ice cream). As I headed over to grab a tube of turkey sausage, I paused in front of the pork.

And that's when it hit me.

The urge to cook.

I stood there, in front of the boneless pork chops, head tilted to the right, and thought, "I have stuff for salad. It would take about the same amount of time to nuke a potato as it would to George Foreman a pork chop. I could totally make a real dinner!"

People, this is a big day. This is the first time I have thought about cooking (and yeah, I know I'm using that word loosely, as this meal plan involves a microwave and a George Foreman grill, but still... this is me, thinking about cooking) in roughly four months.

I have been living on wheat bagels, cold cereal, vanilla yogurt and Progresso soup since I came home from the hospital in July. (The good news is, I can eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never get sick of it.)

Today, I bought pork chops, with the intent to cook them myself. I am getting better.

I am still weak. (So weak that I can't pull a grocery cart free if it's in any way stuck to the rest of the chain.) And I still get tired more easily and often than I wish I did, but today I felt the urge to cook a real meal.

It's a red letter day!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

October 6

I survived.

Barely, but I survived.

This last week was my first full 40 hour work week since mid-June.

I am unbelievably sore and achy. I am tired. No, scratch that. I am exhausted. But I survived.

And how I have a three day weekend (thank you, Columbus!) in which I plan to do nothing more than lie around my apartment and relax. Maybe I'll make some pumpkin pancakes, but that'll be the extent of anything I do that'll incorporate any major muscle groups.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October 3

A few months ago, I went to a breakfast/morning meeting at a Singles Conference. I'm not going to lie, the biggest draw was the all-you-can-eat bacon at the breakfast buffet. Also, I had made a deal with myself that I was going to attend two local singles events a month and part of the event was filling care packages for the military. (Bacon AND sending the soldiers some love?! I was in!)

The speaker at said event was none other than John Rhode. (Super duper nice guy. Here's a link to his website, if you don't recognize the name because you are like me and have never watched an episode of Biggest Loser - much to my nurse's consternation - in your whole entire life.) At the breakfast before his talk, he spent a good 20-30 minutes at my table, chatting it up with us ladies. He shared some diet and workout tips and tricks, told some stories, passed around his iPhone to show us some pics. It was a good time.

Among the info he passed on was the little tidbit that most people are allergic to sugar. I had never heard this before, so I asked for verification of what he meant by "allergic". It turns out, he meant:

al·ler·gy   /ˈælərdʒi/ Show Spelled[al-er-jee] Show IPA

noun, plural al·ler·gies.

1. an abnormal reaction of the body to a previously encountered allergen introduced by inhalation, ingestion, injection, or skin contact, often manifested by itchy eyes, runny nose, wheezing, skin rash, or diarrhea.

Okay, he didn't mention diarrhea as a possible allergic reaction (that was courtesy of, but I would think it's very possible. He listed headaches, nausea, mouth sores, etc.

I was shocked. Horrified, even, that my friend Sugar could make something like this happen to any one person's body - let alone the majority.

He explained that most people don't even realize the effect that sugar has on their bodies, because they eat it so consistently that they don't associate what they're eating with how they're feeling sluggish and otherwise un-well. He said that if someone stopped eating sugar for 60-90 days and then reintroduced it, they would feel the effects of sugar and be able to see how it impacts them.

I thought that over, and came back with, "I'm pretty sure that even if I knew chocolate caused me pain, I'd still want to have it every day."

He (and the rest of the table full of women) laughed. ... Like I was kidding or something.


People, after my last surgery, I was rendered unable to digest sugar. Seriously, unable to process sweet treats. It was about a thousand shades of tragic.

In July, I couldn't eat even two bites of a cupcake without my mouth having a canker sore breakout. At the end of August, the sweet pork in a salad I ate made my throat swell up. Two weeks into September, I was still having to brush my teeth within a half hour of eating an ice cream cone, lest the sugar settle in and make my tongue all weird and my throat sore.

But I persevered. I kept at it. ... Why? Because even if I am allergic to sugar, I still LOVE it.

And guess what? Over three months after surgery, sugar is still making my throat hurt. It's also giving me raging headaches. (Tonight I had a piece of cake with cream cheese icing and the sugar seriously put my head in a vice.) But I am eating it again, and that makes me happy. It is, after all, my birthday month, which means that all bets are off when it comes to eating like a responsible grown up. (And I do have a looooot of frozen cake in my house!)

I may have a sugar allergy, folks, but don't you worry about that stopping me from eating it. ... It might stop a normal, rational person with an ounce of self control, but it won't stop me.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October 2

An update on my last PT appointment:

I can now lift six pounds at a time. That's right. I can bench six pounds. (Six. Single digit. ... But it's better than when I could only lift one pound, a time which I very clearly remember, from the not-so-distant past. So, I'll take it.)

While I'm bragging, I'll go on and tell you that I can do five reps with the six pound bar before my right arm collapses.

That's right, I can lift six pounds over my head five times in succession. It's the big time, folks.

And now I will tell you a funny story about how lame I am. (You will love this, I am sure.)

I was talking to a friend at work about how TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE one of my PT exercises is. I described it to her as having to lie on my stomach, with my hands at my side. I then have to stretch/reach straight down as far as I can and then lift my arms (and, here's the real kicker - no pun intended - legs) up from the bed/floor until they're at a 20 degree angle with my body. (The goal is closer to a 30 degree angle. The reality is closer to a 10 degree angle. ... I am a weakling.)

As I was describing this exercise and how IMPOSSIBLE it would be for ANYONE to do it, let alone me, with my clipped wing and non-existent stomach muscles, she squinted up at me and said, "Actually, that's a real exercise. It's called the Superman, I think. People do it at the gym all the time."

Huh. So much for thinking it would be impossible for anyone to do this exercise. ... Turns out "gym people" do it all the time. (Remind me to never go to the gym. I prefer living in a world where it's awesome to be able to lift six pounds at a time and it's okay to modify simple stretches, thanks.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

October 1

It is October, people!

Let the Birthday Month celebrations commence.

And how am I spending the evening of October 1st, you ask?

Reading my new book.


"That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

― Ray Bradbury, The October Country

I love Ray Bradbury. He is my new favorite author. ... Until he scares the pants off me with his creepy stories. Maybe then he won't be my favorite anymore - but he is for now.

I'm off to read. Happy October, ya'll!