Saturday, April 3, 2010

Become a FAN of Cancer!

Radiation. Chemo. Not enough blood cells. Stress. Lack of exercise. Cancer. I feel like I have more than enough reasons not to sleep. My body is weak. My body is tired. My body is worn out from trying so hard to fight. Cancer can wipe you out. It can leave you physically drained and mentally unable to complete even the basic tasks. Having the feeling of tiredness and fighting fatigue is a task within itself.

My @FighterGal tweet: How am I still sleeping? I think I've slept more in the last 24 hours than I've been awake.

Sadly, sleeping doesn't bring relief. According to the American Cancer Society fatigue affects many cancer patients. Over 90% of patients will experience fatigue durning chemotherapy or radiation treatments. At times, there may be physical causes of fatigue, like infection or pain that disrupts sleep. Symptoms include feeling tired or weary even after sleeping, lacking energy to do regular activities, having trouble concentrating, feeling negative, irritable, impatient or unmotivated, and spending a lot of time in bed.

My @FighterGal tweet: Blah. I'm so tired of being tired. #cancersucks

What to do? It's time to become a FAN of cancer. If you want to fight it then use the FAN theory against the flames. How does one become a FAN of cancer? It's simple.

Faith - Have faith in yourself. Create a positive outlook upon your health.

Activity - Increase your physical activities. Your body wants to more. The more you decide to be sedetary the harder it is to fight. By simply moving, you are helping to get your blood and oxygen moving thus allowing your body to fight.

Nutrition - I know at times it is difficult to eat (and hold down ANY foods). Try and feed your body plenty of fruits and vegtables. There are many items within these two food groups that provide anti-oxidants and plenty of cancer-fighting assistance!

Having cancer isn't easy! We are not given the choice on whether or not to have it. We are given the choice to FIGHT IT! It was easy for me to sleep through my days, but I ended up missing the world around me. Wake up and FIGHT! Carry your faith, get some fresh air and EAT! It only hurts if you don't try!

HAIR Today - Gone Tomorrow!

Are you a part of the in-group? I am! I have now joined the group of many a lady who proudly walk around beautiful, bold and well - bald.

I must admit that the process is 100% life changing. I never imagined that I would be joining a group of baldness with ladies such as Halle Berry, Sigourney Weaver, Sinead O'Connor, Demi Moore, etc. The difference was simply that I wasn't ready for my head to be bald. I'm not a star in a movie, a famous singer nor do I have any plans on auditioning for Coneheads! I am merely a cancer patient undergoing a treatment so strong that my hair has fallen out.

I have both heard and read stories of individuals awakening to hair on pillows, chunks in hands, strands in sinks, etc. The first day that a little fell out- I WAS DONE. I wasn't gonna wait for the rest of the journey for something that was out of my control. I took myself to the salon and asked for my head to be completely shaven. My hairdresser was equipped and ready, as was I. Being a 28 year old lady and having your hair cut and shaven is not an easy process. I was OK until I heard the buzz from the clippers. When the buzz started, so did my tears. It's hard to fight against something so vain that we consider as such an image within life. I prayed for a bad hair day - anything but a NO HAIR DAY fared better!

I decided that yes - bald is beautiful, however; my head feels so naked and cold at times. I was OK with comparisons to Halle Berry and even old GI Jane - but once I heard the Britney Spears comparison (sigh), I was ready for a change. I decided for the extreme makeover and began experimenting with wigs. Black, brown, sassy, straight, curly - I've tried them all! I've come to enjoin this wiggy world we live in. I no longer have to spend hours straightening and prepping my hair. Now, I wake up put my wig on and I'M DONE within MINUTES! Humidity? Not over here! Your worried about your hair frizzing and I'm only concerned my wig stays ON!

Regardless of my new wig life - everyday, I check my head. I have little stubs growing slowly but surely. I am told that chances are my hair will return thicker and stronger than before. I'm excited about my hair growing and massage my scalp daily (they say it helps). Though I think I had more hair at my BIRTH, I am pleased with the outcome thus far. It will be a VERY long time before I ever cut or trim my hair again. All I must say, is I had thick hair before - so if you see a random crazy lady walking with long and REALLY REALLY think hair that refuses to cut it - it'd probably be me!

Chemo almost KILL-MOed ME!

There comes a time in your life that you learn to deal with any situation given to you. My next step within my journey was chemotherapy. Much hype has been created regarding chemo. Amongst these are the pros and cons alongside the side effects. I make no regard to educate anyone on all this; we will merely agree chemo itself is an adventure.

I was told that I will have chemo once every ten days. Prior to my first round, I received numerous medications to assist me in any reactions to the chemo. Translation? Chemo is a powerful drug. As I arrived, my stomach was already in knots. I recalled stories I heard from other patients and was not prepared for the kill-mo drug.

I waited for my name to be called. The clinic was hot. I was hungry (for once) and I think I needed to use the restroom. I finally approached the back where I was all prepped up in timed increments. Nurse Ali assisted me this day and took out what appeared to a be a vial as thick as a toilet paper roll. She put on long gloves the reached her elbows.

My @FighterGAL tweet: They have "special gloves" to administer it. Nurse say's its toxic. Yet they are putting it inside my body. Niiiiiccccceeee #sarcasm

At this moment I am in a community room receiving chemo. You heard random clatter amongst patients and nurses and sporadic BEEPS that let you know when others are done. As I look around the room, I feel like walking around and asking, "So, what brings you in today?" Everyone looks sad, I wish a clown would walk in and cheer everyone up.

I sit. I tweet. I sit. I wait. I eavesdrop on the conversation next me. I sit. And then, oh my, and then - it HITS me. I can feel it going in my body.

My tweet: I've had two kids, kidney damage, and a major surgery yet NEVER experienced a feeling like this before.

I continue to sit and fight what I think I feel. I close my eyes in an attempt to distract myself. When I open them, I notice a man across the way throwing up. I convince myself that I don't feel like that, so I am alright. I didn't eat this morning, perhaps my stomach is just crappy. I feel light-headed. I feel nauseous. I feel dizzy. I feel like I can't breathe. I feel hot. I feel cold. I feel confused. But it's chemo, it isn't suppose to feel good, right?

Nurse Ali comes to check on me. She looks at my vitals with a perplexed face. She replaces the cuff twice. She touches me and I tell her that her hands feel like ice going through my skin. She looks at my eyes. She stares at me. She yells and I mean yells - "I need an epi."

I receive an epi-shot. It was at this moment, that me and the rest of the world learned I am allergic to cisplatin. They allowed me to relax and filled my IV with fluids. Fluids make you need to pee, and I mean a lot! I started making trips as though I had a child's bladder. Grandpa Dean sits near the restroom and has a good view of everyone coming and going.

Grandpa Dean: "Well you look new."
Me: "Why is that?"
Grandpa Dean: "Because you have hair and cause I ain't see you here back here before."
Me: I tug on my hair. Yep, still there. I reply "it's my first time...."
Grandpa Dean: "Well hang-in there sweetie...It only gets better from here.I've been fighting a long time." He looks at my IV hook that is following me. "what kind you got in there?"
Me: I smile. "I got the good stuff!"
Grandpa Dean: He laughs. "well Sharrreeeeee"

Grandpa Dean appears to be in his early 70s. He has a shirt that reads: This is my cancer fighting shirt. I look at his IV's. He has three and an iv-port. He physically looks tired and worn out. He is in good spirits and speaks with everyone. He is a fighter and I desire to be like him. I go to the restroom and return back to my death row and sit. Nurse Ali returns to inform me that we are moving forward with a different combination that has a lower chance of an allergic reactions. I'm not ready, but then again, I wasn't ready to have cancer either. Doc comes by and checks on me.

Doc: "How are you feeling, Nicole?"
Me: "You tried to kill me, how should I be feeling?"
Doc: "I'm just giving you a flash into the future - everything is fine now."
Me: Rolls eyes. "May I please hit 30 first..."

Doc precedes to tell me a story about death and living.

Me: "Are you speaking from experience or hearsay?"
Doc: "How can I speak from experience?"
Me: "How can you speak from hearsay, wouldn't she be dead?"
Doc: "Your something else."

Nurse Ali returns to check on me often. "Still breathing," I say. She laughs.

Nurse Ali: "May I get you anything?"
Me: "If this is how it's gonna be, I want some sweet tea."

Nurse Ali laughs and she never brings me any tea. What horrible service! After a few hours and changing of Chemo drugs, I BEEP. It is done. I look around the room and notice a group of fighters. Everyone here is a fighter. There are two different people in this world, those whom live life and those whom are fighting for their lives. The compromise is becoming the fighter who lives life.

Fighting 13.1 Miles IS Fighting Cancer!

A marathon remains at 26.2 miles. Crossing San Antonio from north to south or east to west is about that same mileage. Half that, is a half-marathon at a grand 13.1 miles. It is a trip to the mall or even a friends house. Not too bad.

Doc says that exercise is good for cancer. He explains the multiple benefits that exercise has on one's body. Exercising is NOT only about losing weight. It's about improving your mood, fighting diseases, managing your weight, increasing your energy, helping you sleep, boosting your knowledge, reducing depression, relieving symptoms of PMS, oxygen circulating your body, increasing your heart rate for your health, and strengthening your muscles.

It's not easy to get motivated to exercise. Better yet, life happens and we can't exercise. We don't have the time nor the energy to hit the gym or even the streets to have a stroll. We have families to feed, children to chauffeur, friends too tend to alongside other obligations.We WANT to exercise but just don't have the time.

Here is the reality- you DO have time! You have time to sleep in, 1 hour lunches, drinks with friends, dinner with colleagues, etc. You rush home at 5:00 PM to make dinner, eat, deal with children and their homework and then? Let me guess? Your tired. You don't feel well. Your sick? You have a life threatening illness? Perhaps cancer or such?There are a million excuses yet only one answer... Just do it!

If you haven't figured it out, I am fighting cancer. At stage 3 with a low blood count, I participated in the Rock Roll half-marathon. Doc told me daily exercise along with being outside is great for cancer. Doc recommend against 13.1 miles, but I am a hardheaded and stubborn @FighterGal.

I ran with my father/nurse/coach whom supported and encouraged every step and breath I took. It took me 3:26:00 to run 13.1 miles. Though this is not the winning time, it is my time of completion. After 8 miles, I was beyond ready to call it quits. My father encouraged me to keep running, walking and even staggering until I finished my goal. I complained over foot pain, tiredness and even pulled the cancer card, but dad reminded me that I wanted to run this half-marathon. I wasn't ready to get beat by my dad, with or without cancer.

Exercising is about life. It is the accomplishment of a goal that will only better you. If I can complete a goal of 13.1 miles, what is prohibiting you from running 1 mile? Not a runner? Get outside and walk, do some free weights, crunches, sit-ups or partake in a gym membership. Still not for you? Perhaps a yoga class, bikram yoga, cycling class, etc. Still clueless? Blah - stop making excuses - you'll figure it out! The time is now! You shouldn't need a watch to realize how precious time is! It's not about proving anything to anyone but yourself! So prove to yourself to live life! Live with no regrets and laugh the whole way through

Sweet and Unsweet Cancer!

During any illness or disease, eventually the question of nutrition comes into play. Though I am not a health-nut, I don't exactly eat the way I should either. I was told that I needed to meet with a nutritionist, to assist me in my daily meals to ensure I helped fight all that was bad within my body.

My @FighterGal tweet: I should wear all black today. Today all my food choices die.

During the first meeting, the nutritionist gave me all her credentials, accreditation's and certifications. I could care less. I didn't want someone to tell ME how and what to eat. This nutritionist, renamed to protect her identity, Healthga (pronounced Helga) was adamant about my poor eating habits.

Helga: "What do you like to eat."
Me: "Chicken, pizza, shrimp, vegetables, rice, potatoes..."
Helga: "What do you like to drink?"
Me: "Sweet Tea, Dr. Pepper..." She interrupts me.
Helga: "You can't eat that way anymore."
Me: "Huh? Pardon?"
Helga: "I need to detox your system. Your toxic and you need a juicer. "
Me: "What? Who are youuuuuuuu????"

My @FighterGal tweet: I never felt this frustrated with a conversation about food. I feel like Helga is talking mean about a good friend. All this talk is really making me hungry... and I want a sweet tea! sigh.

I knew this couldn't be any worse. Not only was I told I couldn't eat the foods that make me so happy, but I have to drink them! She provided me a list of foods recommended both for healthy and holistic dieting. Yes, she used the word diet. Among the list were beets, apples, carrots, spinach, garlic. These were required to assist in detoxing my system and were recommended within a drinkable state. Belch.

Did I do it? Yes. Did I like it? No. One week was nothing but drinking juice and being on a BRAT type diet. The following week consisted of immune foods such as onion, avocado, spinach and cranberries. Helga is not considered the most likable person on my journey. As much as I despise visiting with her, I do listen to her.On days that I don't go and attempt to cancel my appointment, she calls and still checks on my eating regime.

At the initial consultation meeting, she informed me of my greatest weakness of all. The word NO. It was NO sugar, NO salt, NO sweets, NO sodium, NO tasty yummy foods that you like, NO, NO, NO. Helga explains how cancer feeds off of sugar. It's true, sugar can help cancer grow. The cells love it. No wonder they love me, it's like a sugar cane party inside my body! One may not realize how many foods have some sugar in it until you are prohibited from consuming it.

Sugar goes by many names. They hide within these form hoping you cannot recognize them. Names such as aspartame, neotame, sucarlose, acesulfame, cyclamates, saccharin, etc. all exist and are big NO-NOs to my diet. Sweeteners such as stevia and xylitol are natural sweeteners that can be included positively within your diet.

After detoxing, raising immune, and eating stuff that grows out of the ground, my nutrition HAS changed. In addition to chemo and radiation, I am helping my body fight. Currently, I have an extremely low red blood cell count - you can't tell. If it wasn't on a chart, you wouldn't believe it. My energy is great. My spirit is high and I am content.

It's important to know the impact that nutrition has on any level. Whether you are healthy or ill, it's important to monitor what you consume. Never did I think of the impact that a refreshing sweet tea could have negative effects within my body. I am not telling you that you have to juice your foods (though it is easier to throw up), but I am telling you to put good into your body. For, if you put good into your body, than good shall come out of it! For now, my cancer will be unsweet cause the sweetness isn't worth it! Pick your poison, sweet or unsweet?

Boob Awareness - and yes PINK Balls!

October represents Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you are not already aware, a mere trip to the store or a viewing of an NFL game will display pink ribbons on display! Cancer ribbons exist on hats, shirts, decals on cars! I recently purchased my father pink racquetballs both in my support of cancer and I thought it'd be a humorous way of watching him play racquetball with pink balls!

Every month carries an awareness of some kind. From cervical cancer, skin cancer, prostate and more, every month provides a reminder of the realities and effects of cancer. My goal is to make it to June and partake amongst others on National Cancer Survivor Day!

This being said, I think it is important to recognize that breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer after lung cancer. It is also the most common form of cancer among women. There are currently 2.5. Million survivors within the United States, that's only 2x the population of San Antonio. These numbers remind us the importance of getting checked annually.

Men, before you stop reading note this note that breast cancer also affects men. Additionally, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. 1 in 6 men will at some point become diagnosed with cancer. Men, I don't care if you play with pink balls or not, get yourself checked regularly.

Though each month carries an awareness we have to remain aware all the time. Cancer does not discriminate. It cares not of your age, race, gender nor your status within the community. Recently Elf Louise (Louise Locker) encountered the news herself. My thoughts, prayers and humor are with her and her loved ones in this time of need.

Though certain cancers are more common than others it's important to understand that some are unique. I'm unique. Even though I have cervical cancer I do not have the HVP virus. I just like to think I help keep cancer research alive! And yes, there is a month for that too!

I've educated you that you shouldn't wait until you are diagnosed with an illness or age to maintain a bucket list. On the same end, you shouldn't wait till you are ill to go to the doctor and find you have cancer. Get checked regularly and get checked annually. A simple check-up can save your future and increase your chances of survival when detected early. It can be the difference! Till then, become aware and play with pink balls!

Deadline is Approaching! What's on your Bucket List?

It's true! WE are ALL going to DIE! One day, somehow, somewhere. This is the truth.

It's a harsh reality to understand the concept of death, but we are present on this earth with the knowledge that death will bestow upon us at some point. When one is told of an illness that has a timeline upon it - the reality of death hits harder. Questions approach us more about life, purpose and even presence.

It's usually when one becomes sick, diagnosed with an unforgiveable disease, or even ages within life that a certain "list" becomes created. This list is often referred to as a bucket list as it explains goals that one would like to accomplish before "kicking the bucket." It's important to understand that YOU should'nt wait till you are at the hospital at 3AM fearing for your life to start a bucket list. There are reasons you should start one TODAY!

Bucket lists help us determine the goals and wishes that we desire to accomplish before our day of demise. It is important to write such a list as it adds a defined purpose to your life. It is simple. At any age, a bucket list can be created. Here is an example of goals written by a kindergartner:

A Kindergartner's Bucket List:
1) Have a turtle as a pet
2) Eat cake - for breaksfast
3) Have a TV in my room
4) Learn to drive a car
5) Meet Hannah Montana/ Jonas Brothers

The reality is ALL of this CAN happen. It is NOT because this is a child's list that makes such goals feasible, but because they are attainable goals! Bucket Lists always have goals that are feasible and CAN be accomplished!. YOU MUST EMPLOY ACTION TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOALS. The first thing to do is begin to make your list. A simple sheet of paper and a pen will suffice. You can even utilize a napkin found at a restaurant for those quick and random thoughts. You do not need to install any programs, nor upload any files - all you need is your inner-self escape and say, "I wish I could...", "I wanna go to...", "I always wanted..." (fill in the blanks.) After completion of your list, you set forth action to accomplish your goals. It is that simple: write a list of goals and complete the list.

After my diagnosis, I started a bucket list. I began with the simple desires of travel. I slowed down when I decided I wanted to own a sock monkey. Everyone is different. It isn't about out-doing another, but learning how to become and discover yourself! A bucket list is about taking your desires and turning them into lifetime memories and accomplishments.

Some of my more random goals...
* straddle the equator
* grow and eat my own veggies (too bad I don't have a green thumb!)
* attend a hockey game - and watch the players fight
* be a mime for a day
* ride a camel
* hit a home run
* get painted like the men in the blue men group
* see the statue of liberty - and then walk up her stairs
* yes, own a sock monkey!

My point?! Some of you may have accomplished items on my list. That's what makes us all different. It's not about anybody else but yourself. So often we spend our lives putting others first that we forget about ourselves only to realize we have sheltered our true desires. Don't wait till you get diagnosed or age to live life! Call your loved ones, build relationships and explore life! We only live once so live life and adventure everywhere within your own journey! Go make your list and get ready to check it off before your deadline comes! Start doing things that make you feel alive, that draw you towards your future and your happiness! Live with no regrets and laugh the whole way through. <>

Radiation, Dots and Laser Tag

Radiation was the recommendation for my cancer cells to be both weakened and reduced in size. After x-rays and MRI's, small circles were drawn on Chastity (my "special spot"), so that precision to the cancerous cells could be radiated. Every treatment consisted of the external beams targeting the dots and beaming radiation deep into the tissue for a few minutes. Though Chastity was getting used to the treatment, I loathed the daily trips to the clinic. At some point, cancer does become a full-time job!

I recall having the technician color the dots on Chastity. At my first treatment, they applied that which resembled a henna type of dotted tattoo. I wanted a marker so I could play connect-the-dots. When else could one do so in life? It was at my next treatment that they uped the ante. There was no henna tattoo, but a real machine with a small motor attached. I felt as though I was at a tattoo shop. They applied the machine to my henna stained dots and created black little circles within my pelvic area. Little dots now decorate Chastity, she is unique and one of a kind!. I requested a floral design or something of more substance, but apparently the clinic's aren't licensed to do such!

My family including my parents were still not taking the cancer news well. It was difficult for me to tune them in to my events when I can visually see their world crashing down. I am a very strong pillar in my family. I carry strength, determination and motivation like none other. Mother always states, "You can fall into a pile of poop, but YOU always come out smelling like roses." This statement is VERY true within my life. I knew the importance of remaining strong for my family.

I decided to change up terms about cancer treatments. I had too - It was important to keep my loved ones informed but also relaxed about the illness I was facing. Re-naming my "special spot", Chastity, seemed to work so why not other events too? I told my family about my decorated Chastity and they handled it quite well. How else can one speak of such a private situation and a private spot and expose it so publicly to one's family?

While getting radiated, I always envisioned the beam coming straight down like when one plays laser tag. You always aim the beam right at your opponent and then when they least expect it - ZAP! ZAP! ZAP!

Mom: "Hey sweetie, how are you doing today?"
Me: "I'm good. I'm off to laser tag."
Mom: "Oh, ok. Well, you sound busy, call me when your done."
Me: "Ok, love you!"
Mom: "Love you too!"

It wasn't until hours later, that Mother calls me again.

Mom: "Wait a second, why are you playing laser tag? Didn't you have radiation today?"
Me: "Yep. That's where I was."

Mom begins to giggle and giggles some more. "I didn't catch on to that!" I proceed to relate the comparisons of radiation and laser tag to her. "It's true Mom, 3 times a week they play laser tag with Chastity!" Mother laughs, "Yes, I guess they do." Laser tag with a decorated Chastity - this is a game of life. Last I checked, Chastity was up 20, treatments that is, and still fighting! Fight ON!

I Named My Special Spot!

After dealing with both the cryosurgery and the LEEP procedure, I was worn out. I had undergone coldness and heat in my "special spot" and all at the same time. In my life, I have never had so many people pay attention to such an area of privacy. It was almost to the point of feeling violated.

My results came back positive for squamous cell carcinoma in both pelvic and cervix regions. I was diagnosed at a stage 3 and informed the 5 year survival rate is approximately 25-45%. I was then told that radiation three times a week would be next on my journey.

My radiation consists of an external beam laser which "targets" the bad cells and zaps them over time. This process is done, in hopes of shrinking the tumors.

As I started to think about, I realized the show I would be putting on three times a week. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I would be exposed from the waist down, to not one, nor two, but a team of doctors assigned to me. If there is any other word than uncomfortable to explain this feeling, please insert it now.

During one of my visits, the suggestion to name my "special spot" was given. I thought about many names such as Gina (pronounced jigh-nuh), V-G, Vag-Jay Jay, Kitty, etc. But then it occurred to me the previous recommendation I was given on what NOT to do to my "special spot."

Don't douche.
Don't use tampons.
Don't have sexual intercourse.
Basically don't do anything!
And then it came to me! She shall be named CHASTITY! She will not be permitted to engage in such actions to proclaim otherwise. When I confronted the team upon my decision, they laughed. "It's perfect!", Chastity, it is!

Having radiation that day was different.
Tech: "OK, Now I'm gonna move Chastity just a little to the left. Keep her still for me, OK."
Me: "You got it."
Tech: Zap. Zap. Zap.

Gee, why didn't I think of this before? This humor helped so much! It kept the tension away. It created a comfort zone. It changed the relationship from doctors and technicans to cheerleaders and supporters. Creating laughter for at least ten minutes a day can stimulate your body to fight infections and boost killer cells. This can cause a pain delay between 2-12 hours! Just adding a name to my "special spot" changed everything.

Chastity was colored on (for beam precision), she was frozen, LEEPed, poked, scraped and looked at with flashlights and detailed. Chastity was on display. It's nice to know when I go to my appointments, that I am not alone. I walk in, ready to fight, as Chastity follows ready to sustain anything.