Sunday, November 26, 2023

Thanksgiving feast reimagined...

I hope all you living in the States had a very nice Thanksgiving.   We had a small, but happy gathering with our sons and middle son's girlfriend on Thursday.  We've forgone the traditional turkey meal for I don't even know how long now, and this year settled on the idea of having a Taco Bar.  It was so much fun with everyone in the kitchen at one point helping to pull the various components together for our meal of make your own tacos.

As is usual when we have family get togethers, we played some games.  My favorite games are ones that get people to talking - especially if people start talking about themselves, or about memories that come up during the game.  And of course, laughter is a must - so nothing too serious, or too long or complicated for that matter.  Before we ate, we played A Fake Artist Goes to New York.  A long, goofy name for a very simple and funny game.  And after our tacos, we played So Clover!  Why oh why do I not think in the moment, to snap some pictures?   Here are links to explanations of 
So Clover! and A Fake Artist Goes to New York if you're curious about them.  

It was a good Thanksgiving Day.  Over too soon, but that always seems to be the way it is anymore.  I feel it more keenly the older I get.

Below is a picture of my dad (in 1986).  His tradition was to cook the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey every year.  I suppose we all pitched in once we were older, but since I was a little girl until she couldn't do it anymore, I remember Mom made traditional hearty sides including oyster dressing at Thanksgiving.  That dressing was my favorite part of our Thanksgiving feast.

Though we did all look forward to the turkey 
that Dad roasted and basted to perfection.  

There is something to be said for keeping to traditions.


On the crafting front, I recently finished the Sweet As Can Bee blanket I started a few weeks ago.  It's a nice midweight afghan, perfect for slightly chilly evenings, and it puts a fun pop of autumn color in the living room for this time of year.  I'm so glad I finally made it:

And now I'm on to decorating the Christmas tree, 
and starting a new crochet project!   


Saturday, November 18, 2023

Things are returning to normal around here...

So... it's taken about 5 weeks after my 4th chemo infusion to approach the level of energy and stamina I had reached by Day 10 of my first 3 chemo cycles.  I just can't believe how knocked down I felt this time around.  While I've developed a cough that keeps hanging around, x-rays last week show my lungs are clear, so I'm trusting it eventually goes away.   While normal will, no doubt, be something different than before surgery and chemo, I am getting back to some semblance of it.  I've become motivated to grocery shop and cook again, and it helps greatly that my tastebuds have started to work again.  Not perfectly, yet, but food has ceased being one of the biggest disappointments of my days.

While I didn't feel good enough for most of the first half of autumn to truly enjoy it, I do know it's been a beauty this year.  Our trees have, a few at a time, all turned gorgeous colors in recent weeks, and the hanger-on-ers will likely drop most of their leaves by Thanksgiving.

The most beautiful of our late shedders

I'm still at a spot where there is so much more I could write about what's going on with my health, but after this post, I think I will have reached a point in this journey where I won't necessarily want to put it out there for public consumption.  I know...  considering what I have put out there, it may seem a little late for that.  I don't like to present a picture online that may look rosier than it is, but if I'm at least this honest in this post with those of you who've followed along in recent months, I think I'll feel like I'm being "real enough" right now.  Not that there are rules about this sort of thing.  My blog, my rules.  These posts have truly been mostly for my benefit, and as some kind of record after time passes and I will have forgotten much of it.

I will have follow-ups with my oncology doctors for several years to come, and it appears my GP is following along via a patient portal with great interest.  I heard from her earlier this week, in fact, when as of last week I had my first DEXA scan. 

I'm not sure if these are routinely ordered for cancer patients (under age 65), but because my doctor wants me to go on endocrine therapy via an Aromatase Inhibitor, and AI's are known to affect bone mass, a bone density test was ordered to find out what my baseline is.  I'm not at all comfortable with the news that I'm running at a deficit in that department, and I now need to add dealing with osteoporosis to my bag of tricks.  After spending a few days worrying that every little discomfort in my back is my spine ready to crack in two (or a hundred) pieces, I've decided one cannot live like that.  While I'm learning how to hopefully preserve what bone mass I have, and hope beyond hope I may actually be able to improve things, I've decided I kind of have to live and move like I'd never read the O-word on my report.  That is a challenge. Of course, I can't live like it doesn't exist, but I can't live in fear of it, I've finally concluded.  More easily said than done, but...  well...  at least I've said it.

I'm holding off until after Thanksgiving to start popping that powerful little daily AI pill.  I may or may not report side effects of that therapy.  Honestly, the reason I may not share a lot more about all of this is I don't want to attract unsolicited advice from anyone who doesn't have the complete picture for a subject that is complicated and in some cases (I have learned) is controversial. Living in the age of the internet and YouTube influencers is both a blessing and a burden.  Too many people think they are an expert on something that very few people truly are - even the experts, I fear.

I wrote about this weeks ago, but I am now entering the stage of treatment that many women who've dealt with breast cancer have to traverse mostly alone (under the care of their doctors).  I will be living my life more normally, and engaging more publicly in my social circles than I have for the last five months, but there will be a quiet, private work happening outside of the purview of most people I engage with.   It is the stage that I started dreading a month ago, and it is here.  This is new territory for me.  While the introvert in me has always appreciated keeping a "private life", I've not had any big secrets either - certainly, not where it comes to my health. I'm pretty much "what you see is what you get".  Or so I thought.  Frankly, I haven't felt like there's been much to see until recently, thank goodness.

Ah well...  we all march on with growing older, don't we.  As matter-of-fact as that is, this is not a reality I seriously ever imagined maneuvering.  Which is silly when I think about it.  I mean, we all hope to grow old, and while some of us do a better job preparing our bodies to face things that are common as we grow older, who of us actually prepares our minds, and is psychologically prepared for the myriad things we may have to maneuver as we go through our senior years?  As someone who has often thought I operate with a decent amount of mental clarity, I don't feel particularly mentally prepared for this - except for my superpower of compartmentalizing when it suits me.  

I have a feeling now that skill is only going to get me so far.

I really hope this place I'm in in my mind is a phase.  Hopefully, in a few months I'll have made changes that need to happen, a new normal will emerge, and maybe I won't be so consumed by these kinds of thoughts.  I'll get on with life.  Will continue healing from my surgery earlier this year, and will just get on with doing the things I need to do.  I guess I've already started doing that.

And hopefully, there will be plenty of fun (maybe even interesting) stuff to share here.

Having felt a bit of a loss recently when it comes to blogging, I've been thinking about what to do to spark some mojo in that department.  Maybe I'll try posting daily in December.  Maybe I'll challenge myself in a way I'm willing to share here.  Meanwhile, I'm enjoying catching up with my bloggy friends, and seeing what motivates and sparks creativity in you all.   If you got this far, thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading.  And thank you all for the encouragement you've sent my way.  I am grateful.

Just for fun, here's a photo of me and my two older sisters (taken in our living room) that was recently circulated on a family Facebook page that Greg has been posting lots of photos to:

While it isn't a particularly good picture, it sure shows well the time frame (probably 1964) and evokes a lot of nostalgia for me.  I'm sure at the time I loved wearing the same dress as my big sisters.  That seemed to be a thing back then.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

A fine autumn day...

Just popping in for a super quick moment to make it known that I am here, and am visiting blogs as I feel up to it, but the fatigue I barely mentioned in my last post has hit me profoundly for the last week and a half.  I think it is improving at this point (little-by-little, day-by-day), but I have been knocked down much harder after the fourth chemo infusion than from any of the previous three before.    I think it's made worse because I simply didn't expect this since I regained my energy about half-way through my previous rounds.  Giving into the need to rest for an extra week and a half was not part of my plan.  I had things to do!   Adjusting my expectations was not something I had on the docket at this point.

That said, and discouraging as it has been, I don't really think it's anything to be worried about, but rather is likely a normal, cumulative effect of several chemo rounds.   

But today was a good day.  Middle son has come for a visit, and it was great to spend some time outside on our last warmish day this month, me doing the little bit I felt up to.   Son is taking down a rogue mulberry tree for us.   I don't have a clue why it was ever allowed to keep growing right in the midst of these shrubs - from the size of the base of the trunk, I'd guess for at least 20 years.

Then we enjoyed a fire.  One of many in the upcoming weeks, no doubt.

The strawberry patch needs to be prepped for winter, but I'm going to put that off until after a few freezing nights next week.  The last two years, I've covered the strawberry plants before the first hard freeze, but I've recently seen online that it's good to harden them off first.  Let them experience a few freezing nights.  Since my energy level wasn't capable of tackling the strawberries this past week, and next week promises freezing temperatures for three nights, I've decided I'm okay with giving this "hardening off" idea a try.  

The asparagus is ready to be cut down now that it's turned yellow, and the seedpods are a cheery red color.  We've got some leaves that have been hanging out, composting for over a year now, so hopefully they've pretty much turned to leaf mold and it's all ready to cover the asparagus patch with.  I'm already looking forward to next April when the first shoots of asparagus should appear. 

With my waning mojo, my handcrafts have largely taken a back seat, again, but a few days ago when I had some extra energy, I decided to look through my yarn hoard stash, and I was motivated to start a simple blanket.  It does me good to keep my hands busy, and while I've had to rip back more times than I care to admit (to correct careless mistakes), the stitch pattern is easy enough that my tired brain can handle it.  

Do you see the honeycomb pattern?   The pattern is called
Sweet As Can BeeThe link goes to Ravelry, and will only open to the pattern for Ravelry members.  

And that's all I've got for the moment.  Thank you for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Day 10...

For each of my chemo rounds, I kept a daily journal of my symptoms as I progressed through the days following the infusion.  I did it the first time at the suggestion of my oncologist's nurse.   It was helpful for them because knowing what my symptoms were, they had ideas on how to minimize them in the next rounds.  I applied their ideas, and they helped.  My oncology nurse also told me that many times people's bodies adapt to the chemo, and the first round is the worst.  I will say that was true for me - whether it was my body adapting, or me applying their suggestions for my symptoms, or both.  While none of the symptoms were pleasant or exactly easy, none were as bad as they were the first time around.

When my second round of chemo came around, I distinctly remember looking back at my account of Round 1 and noticed I stopped writing anything after Day 9.  Wondering why I would do that, I made a mental note to keep going with it for the full 21 days.   

And then I got to Day 10 on the second round and I realized I felt practically normal, and there really wasn't anything to write.   I was no longer taking any medicines to counteract symptoms because the worst of the symptoms had pretty completely passed at that point.  What a relief that was.  It made the next two sessions loom much less large in my mind.  Not that it was nothing, but my chemo protocol and side effects weren't as terrible as I imagined it all would be.

Today is Day 10 of my last round.  I'm happy to say I once again feel practically normal, except for some fatigue.  Well... and the fact that I had a minor mishap a week ago which led to a finger getting infected this week, so now I'm on an antibiotic for that.  It's not that the mishap was significant, but rather that my immunity is so compromised that my finger developed an infection.  Under normal circumstances, an infection wouldn't have set in, I'm positive.  Mostly that has been an annoyance, but within 24 hours, the antibiotic has started helping my finger feel less sore, so I'm hopeful that will soon be history too.

I mentioned in an earlier post that some motivation for creative activities has returned.  I'm happy to say the feeling is staying with me.  Here are just some random things I've been doing as the spirit strikes:

Knitting fresh dishcloths in fall colors makes me happy.

Stitching on my Quaker sampler continued.

Zentangling the cover of a birthday card 
for youngest son made him smile.

Collecting slow drawing "inchies"
They're actually 2 inch squares.

Auditioning some fabrics for a scrappy autumn stitch

And starting a collection of fabric yo-yo's
 for future slow-stitching projects

None of it is exactly impressive, but it's satisfying to see I at least kept my hands busy during so much down time in recent weeks.

A beautiful autumn is settling in here in central Indiana.  I hope you're enjoying whatever the season brings you.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Ringing out of chemo...

No matter how many chemo treatments you go through, when you finish you have the opportunity to "Ring the Bell" in celebration.

It's a weird place to be in one's mind - to be both thrilled that the last treatment is behind, and at the same time a little apprehensive knowing some uncomfortable days are ahead before truly being on the other side.

From my experience, counting infusion day as Day 1, at the end of 6 days I'll have passed through the worst of the symptoms, and in 10 days I'll be feeling pretty much normal.  Day 10 or 11, I have felt good enough and motivated enough to go grocery shopping and start cooking in earnest.  Unfortunately, the taste buds still find food a serious disappointment, and was told today getting them back could take a few months, but at least the motivation to cook always returns for me sometime in the second week post treatment. 

I asked my oncologist for a month's reprieve before starting endocrine therapy - which will last 5-7 years if it goes well.  It is a typical treatment suggested to breast cancer patients who have hormone positive tumors.  He was very agreeable to my desire to enjoy the rest of my autumn with (hopefully) no sick days.  I have a DEXA scan scheduled, and a follow-up regarding that.  I'm not looking forward to facing down the possible side effects of taking a daily pill, the purpose of which is to rid my 64-year-old body of any shred of estrogen that may be lurking still, or is hoping to yet be produced.  But I feel incentivized by my onco-type test score to give it a good honest try.  My oncologist told me today that going through this chemo regimen, I've possibly knocked down my chance of recurrence by 11-15%.  That doesn't seem like much, but with an onco-type score that indicated I had a 22% chance of breast cancer recurrence without chemo, I'm pretty okay with those odds.  I have to be.  I don't get to pick the odds.  I only get to pick what game(s) I'm willing to play in the cancer casino.  In the end, I hope for the best, but as we all ultimately do, I have to bravely face whatever comes once I've played my hand.  

You'd think I was a gambler with the way I talk these days.  Normal me is pretty averse to gambling in any form, but I suspect cancer - any big health scare, really - has a way of changing how a person sees life.  I won't be buying lottery tickets anytime soon, but I do see the rest of my days as (hopefully) choosing to play my smartest and best hand, knowing I have zero control over how the game turns out.  That is true for all of us, of course, but having your odds printed on a piece of paper, staring you down, profoundly changes your perspective. 

While wrapping one's mind around these things isn't exactly a pleasant thing to do, it's oddly freeing once one does.  

All that said, I'm in a good place.  My cancer was caught early, even though every diagnostic test found more "cancer-y" stuff, I'm am thankful for where I am on the cancer continuum.

For the last few weeks this point in time has weighed heavy on my mind.  As of today, the visible part of my treatment is behind me.  The part that people have cheered me on through.  Once I'm feeling recovered from this final chemo treatment will begin the quiet, much more private work of continuing to heal from the mastectomy.  Continuing daily stretching and myofascial massage - for years.  My physical therapist tells me for the rest of my life.  And beginning endocrine therapy that holds risks to other parts of the body requires I care about that as well, so there will be work to do to combat (hopefully head off) those potential side effects...  And there is strength building that my physical therapist encourages me to wait until the new year to start - that I will eventually need to more fully overcome weakness left over from surgery.  While I'm no longer in any serious pain, my body reminds me daily I am still healing from that.   So it's really not over.  It just goes on differently.  Now more privately,  except for me possibly sharing here from time to time.

There is a lot of talk about cancer patients being "warriors".  It's a nice sentiment, but honestly, I've never seen myself as a warrior in this.  Mostly I saw myself on a cancer conveyor belt - only occasionally having any real say in the matter - that is, if I wanted to go the modern medicine route.  Only realizing much later the moments I should have put have my foot down about something.  Like troubling myself with visiting a plastic surgeon before I knew what my real surgery options would end up being - I let myself be cowed on that one, by a scheduler, of all people.  At the time, everything was all so new I had no way of knowing that I'd, personally, regret not holding my ground on that one.  

Much of life is like that, though, isn't it.  Sometimes, it's only with some experience that one can recognize more clearly the obvious moments one should have taken a stand.  Even though I've never been a very passive patient, it's just impossible to know everything going into such a daunting experience.  But boy, when you're thrown into the fire, you learn to learn quick.  Thanks to the internet, it's easy to tap into necessary and helpful information.  In short order you become something of an expert, and words and acronyms the average person is unfamiliar with, roll of the tongue in a seasoned way.

And then, suddenly it seems, I'm at the end of all that.  And at this point I've come to realize I'm really just an expert on me.  Like I was before this all began.  Next year (certainly within five, ten years), science will have introduced new things, and I'll be the commoner who doesn't know the lingo anymore. 

So yeah...  my head's been in a kind of weird place in the last few weeks.  A friend, who's had her own experience with cancer heard me out last night and said it sounds like I might be feeling at loose ends.  Yes!  Exactly.  I'm coming to the end of the "visible" treatment, that was as easy and as hard as staying on the conveyor belt and being told what test was next, when to show up, then considering the treatment options (which are tailored to you and your cancer, so really, the options are pretty few), but still feeling compelled to weigh it all carefully, until finally finding myself landed in a place where now I feel a bit cut loose.

In truth, my oncologist (and/or his nurse practitioner) are a phone call away, they told me today.   I will see my oncologist again in 4 months, and then every 3-6 months after that (whatever the need may be).  I've not found myself needing much handholding throughout this process, but it has felt good to see both of these people every 21 days for the last three months.  Maybe I'm just anticipating missing them.  

That sounds crazy when I actually say it, because those words have never crossed my lips ever, over any doctor.  But I think this is a normal feeling from things I read online.

Yep.  A bit at loose ends.  Needing to go through some uncomfortable days ahead, and then I can move into getting stronger, healthier, trying to be the best I can be in my continued healing (my friend gave me that thought too).  But so much that is ahead is on me now.

It feels both freeing and weighty.

I'm all in because I have no choice.  That's what I said when I was going through all the other stuff, when someone would tell me I was "so brave", so I guess not much has changed, really, when I think about it that way.  Maybe this next phase is actually where the warrior title is earned - in the battle fought largely away from the eyes of others.  Which, when I think about it, is where most people deal with their most challenging life's issues (be they health or other struggles).  So it's a common and reasonable place to be entering, I know.  We're all warriors in this life, really.  It's somehow a comforting thought to consider we all eventually face things bigger than ourselves.  Some people are brave enough to pick out their own big challenges in life.  Some of us dig deep and find what it takes to face the challenges thrust upon us.  I am ever grateful for a faith in God that keeps me grounded, or gets me back to grounded when thoughts and feelings go scattering into the wind.

This is me.  Whether or not you were hoping for an invitation, welcome to inside my brain today!  

Thank you, Amy H for the sweet flowers your daughter grew.

And thank you, Mark & Peggy 
for these beautiful zinnias and sunflowers.  

And my back door neighbor, Mary Ann, has surprised me 
with several hand-picked bouquets from her back yard.
Thank you, friend.

Not a single seed I sowed last spring turned into a pickable flower, so I have delighted in the many flowers others have bestowed on me this summer and autumn.  Amazingly, they were spaced out perfectly, allowing me to enjoy fresh blooms over many weeks.   

It's been wonderful!