Monday, December 31, 2012

Pursue: (Password Protected)


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sad Year

As wonderful as this year has been for me in almost every way, it has also been a very sad year for many close to me. There have been too many losses, and too many were tragic and seemed senseless.

The one thing they don't tell you when you are declared "N.E.D" (No Evidence of Disease - aka Remission) is what it will be like to watch others lose their battles. I haven't known many people with cancer, and those that I had were very old when diagnosed. Not that it makes their deaths less sad, but it seems less tragic when someone dies in their 80s versus their 50s, or 30s, or younger...

But once you are diagnosed with cancer, you become part of a club where no one asks for membership. And you make connections through this membership. In my case, they were actually re-connections. Around the time I was diagnosed, I was told of two other people I knew who had gotten similar news. One a beloved professor with breast cancer, the other a classmate from college with leukemia. Both cancers considered relatively "curable" in these days. However, both have died within the last three months after relatively short but extremely brave and faithful fights. And I am awash with mixed emotions that I don't really know how to handle.

I know how I should feel...Grateful.
And I am, believe me.

I have almost grown sick of how many times I've used the words "thankful" and "grateful" in this blog over the last year. But it truly is the emotion that I feel most often. I have soaked in the last 12 months with the kind of awareness and joy that I think is unique to one who was told it would be a much different year. I was overwhelmed many time this year with the recognition of just how blessed I was to experience things others take for granted. A birthday surrounded by friends, multiple vacations to see loved ones, a body healthy enough to run for miles, snuggling new babies...I could go on and on. I am so very grateful.

But when I heard about these deaths, I also was awash with guilt. A fellow survivor put a name to it for me - Survivor's Guilt. I thought that was something reserved for war veterans or plane crash survivors. But it is completely appropriate for what I am feeling. Why have I survived and not them? That is the overriding emotion I feel.

My friends and family have tried to console me in the only way they know how.

"God has big plans for you"
"There are still things He wants you to do here"

And I know that they mean well. I know that they are so grateful that I am still here. But I can't help but feel uncomfortable. Didn't Jenny deserve to get married and have kids? Didn't Deb have plans to watch her daughter graduate from High School? Jenny wanted to run a marathon, why didn't she get a chance to run her race and I did? Heck, I didn't even have to go through chemo. I complained last week about how I broke my brush, pulling it through hair that reaches well down my back.

The guilt would be crushing, absolutely unbearable, if not for one thing.

My faith that God does have a plan, and His plan always works for the good of those who love him. I know that these loved ones who have gone on before me, were believers in God. I know this because they made it clear, every single day of their struggle here on earth. And because of our faith, I know that they are fully healed right now. They have been welcomed home by Jesus and will never suffer again. And for whatever reason we are left here to continue our lives on earth, God has a plan for that as well.

I have an appointment tomorrow morning with Dr. R. I had my follow up ultrasound and blood test last week and will learn the results tomorrow. I, of course, would welcome any and all prayers that they continue to come back clear. But tonight, I am resting in the assurance that it all rests in God's merciful hands. And that one day, whether here or in heaven, I too will be completely healed.

Here's to a Happy New Year, this one has been too sad. I pray that each of you recognize the blessings in your own lives this year. Hold your loved ones a little tighter and soak up the joy.

Bring on 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mom and Me

In October I took a week long vacation, something I rarely ever do! I went to hang out with my mom and we had basically nothing scheduled for the entire seven days.

It was GLORIOUS.

The only thing we did have planned was going to see Les Miserables. Les Mis is my favorite musical to see live and this cast did not disapoint. Great singing, great acting ... I sure hope the upcoming movie is as good!

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Other than this show, we spent most of our days eating delicious seafood and our evening lounging around or occasionally catching a movie. It was great to really relax and enjoy some downtime. I even went for a few runs and relished the warm weather since it was already pretty cold in Chicago by then. All in all, it was a great vacation and I actually returned home feeling rested and refreshed!

I gotta remember to take trips like this more often. :)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Oh July, where did you go?

Here in the frozen days of December, I am really wishing I was back in July... Guess I'll have to do with blogging about summer even though I can't be in it...

So, back in July my friend Laura and her sweet kiddos (and sister in law) came down for a visit! Laura and I went to college together and I despite the distance between us, I still count her as one of my dearest friends. I love whenever we are able to get together.

One of the days she was in town, our friend Jill, her kiddos, and I met up with Laura's troop at the Shedd Aquarium. I LOVE the Aquarium! It is totally my favorite destination in Chicago...


We had a great time checking out all the different exhibits and enjoyed the Dolphin Show. The jellyfish exhibit was one I had been wanting to see - so cool.

The whole day was so nice and a lot of fun was had by all! Is it summer again yet?

 (PS: Laura - Its totally my turn to come visit you!)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Luca and Mickey

Other than my J.A.M kiddos, my other most often photographed kiddo is Luca. Melanie says that we've had a bond since he was in the womb - I feel the same way!
 
Luca's favorite person these days is Mickey Mouse. So, that is what his birthday was all about! I can't believe he is already 2 years old! Where does the time go??
 
 
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The rest of the day was all about fun, friends and family. Hanging out by the water tables, playing in the sun and pulling his new wagon around were all he cared about. What a great day!
 
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Taking 2yr pictures took way longer than expected, what with getting a new sister over the summer! But we finally managed to do it - better late than never right?
 
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And can you see why I love taking this boy's picture? He's quite the little model!
 
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Man, I love that kid!
 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Best Friend's Baby!

(Getting updated is going to take longer than I thought - I'm still back in July/August!)

I am so excited whenever one of my friends is pregnant! I love everything about watching their belly grow, feeling little kicks and ultimately snuggling their newest little one! My best friend Melanie let me try out some new photographer skills to take some maternity pictures of her just a few weeks before her 2nd baby!


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We kept joking during that photoshoot that if she went into labor, I should just "keep on shooting"! And just about 3 weeks later - it was time! Because baby got tricky and moved into a breach position just before her due date, Mel was scheduled for an attempt to turn the baby and/or a C-section. I stayed over the night before to be there for her oldest. After waving goodbye to Mommy and Daddy, Luca and I had a fun morning eating pancakes and making pictures for his new baby.

We headed on out to the hospital and expected to get there just as the baby was born - it took longer than expected but we were so excited to meet Luca's new baby sister!

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And a couple weeks later, we did another photoshoot for baby Isabella. She was quite a trooper and slept through most of it. Can you tell that Melanie is excited to have a girl? That child has never been seen without a flower or bow in her hair!
 

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Dear sweet Bella - I love you!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lucky Life List - First 5K!

I gotta get this blog up to date - that is my goal by New Years! (Gonna be a little difficult since I have no internet at home these days!)

Speaking of goals...

I ran my first 5K!!!

  My dear friend Lisa who ran it with me - thank you friend!
 Starting line - there were 5 stations you could stop at and eat a mini or full size cupcake. You got time deducted - 2 min for a mini, 5 for a regular one! We managed to eat 3 minis!
Coming up on the finishing line!
 
To be honest, I didn't run the entire thing - but I did learn a valuable running lesson. Do not train in the flatlands and run your first race in hill county! Lesson learned - race where you train! (Or at least know where you are racing and adjust your training!) But I am still VERY proud of myself - a year ago I would have laughed at you if you'd suggested that I'd attempt run/walking three miles.

Also, I highly recommend running a race that incorporates cupcakes - cause its pretty hard to take yourself too seriously when there are cupcakes involved!

Final time: 1:00:16  (Adjusted cupcake time: 54:16)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Breathing Easy

Sorry that I dropped off the earth halfway through September! There were quite a few things that put life on hold, or maybe more accurately, life happened and less important things got put on hold.

But I did have a very important doctor appointment a couple weeks ago. Another round of ultrasound and blood test and then meeting with Dr. R. Except this time, I didn't even get to see Dr. R! But I did see his PA, who gave me the best news I've gotten since January.

My CA-125 is back down to 16!!

This is EXTREMELY exciting!!!

The two things we have been watching closely are the cyst to see if its growing and my CA-125 level to see if that number is increasing. A few months ago, it seemed like it might be - which is why I've had follow ups every 1-2 months instead of the typical 3 months. Then it kind of leveled out two months ago, but was still too high for my liking.

But now it is squarely back in "normal" range - and the fact that I don't have to see Dr. R again until NEXT YEAR (January) is just icing on the cake.

After that doctor appointment, I realized just how much I'd still been putting parts of my life on hold since last year. Not completely on hold, but still being extra cautious. Not making real long range plans and holding my breath every month to see if any plans I had made would have to change.

Now I feel like I can make some real life decisions. Some are already in the works and others are still being mulled over. But mostly, I just feel like I'm breathing easier and that is a beautiful feeling!

PS- I had to postpone my first 5k - but it coming up soon!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pursue: Running

When I chose "Pursue" as my one word this year, I knew that health and exercise would be part of what I was going after. But I never dreamed it would lead to RUNNING. I am not a runner. I never wanted to be a runner. I think people who love running are insane or at the very least lying. But as I participated in more healthy living groups and read more about exercise I couldn't continue to ignore running. So many people talked about how much they enjoyed it, what a difference it made in their stress levels, the boost it gave their weight loss and their sense of accomplishment at completing their first races. So, back in January I bought these shoes - and my BEST FRIENDS LAUGHED at me. (What are friends for?) I couldn't blame them laughing at the idea of me running much less running in ridiculous shoes. I started walking but there were a lot of starts and stops - mostly stops. The brutal summer heat this year didn't help. But as the weather cooled and I felt frustrated at the lack of progress I was making in some of my healthy living goals I decided I had to give running another try. 

Day 1

After strapping on my new shoes and downloading two different Couch-2-5K apps, I set out on my first "run" today. After a 5 minutes warm up the Double Run app lady announced, "begin running now".

And I laughed out loud at the confusion between my brain and my body.

First my brain was like "huh? Did someone just tell me to run? Um, okay then...". 

It tried to tell my legs to run and they were were like *crickets*. 

Then my brain was like, "No seriously, come on, toddlers can do this. You know how to run, we used to do it all the time!" 

And my legs took on a slightly faster pace and my feet lifted up off the ground a little higher but they were still pretty much like "Mission abort! Danger Will Robinson!". 

I'm sure I looked as crazy and confused as I felt.

I honestly can't remember the last time I ran intentionally. I've occasionally sprinted after a run away dog or a impulsive child over the last 10 years. But I'm sure it was sometime in high school before running was something I attempted. And even then I was cursing at the gym teacher and walking when I figured he wasn't looking. But today I ran for a total of about 8 minutes total. The C25K program starts with 8 sets of 90 seconds of walking alternated with 60 seconds of running. By the last interval my body was a bit more like, "I vaguely remember these motions". I was tired but not exhausted and I was pretty darn proud that I did it. Let's see if I make it to Day Two!

Day 2

I cursed the skies all day today as it rained pretty much non-stop. Not just because I don't really care for rain unless I can lay in my bed all day. But because I was supposed to go running this afternoon! Its not that I was actually looking forward to it but I didn't want the weather to be the reason I give up on this program. I know myself - if I didn't run today, I'd give up. At least until next week. (Why do we think we can only change habits if we start on a Monday?) 

But the cleared enough that I got to run. It was much easier this time. My legs remembered what "run" meant and I could focus more on breathing and finding a rhythm and pace. I am sticking to my original path - which pretty much consists of going down the sidewalk in front of my house crossing at the end of the street and then running back on the sidewalk across the street. Unadventurous I know, but to be completely honest I didn't want to have to hobble far if I hurt myself. If you know me, you know this is a completely founded fear. But no injuries yet! I took a epsom salt bath after my run today to attempt to ward off the minor soreness I felt yesterday. I'm still a little amazed that I've stuck to this for even two days. We will see if Saturday trips me up - hopefully neither figuratively or literally!

Day 3

It was ROUGH today. Not only was I tired from not really getting enough sleep plus PMS is making cranky. But at 7pm I dragged myself off the couch, much to the dismay of the pups, and put on my running shoes. The first time the C25K lady told me to run I almost refused out of sheer obstinance. 

But I ran. 

For the first time I actually feel like I am running - or at least jogging. The first couple days were more like a really fast walk where I feared falling every time I lifted my foot off the pavement. I tried to push myself today and I was amazed at what I could actually do when I tried. I revved myself up on the last interval and finished huffing and puffing but still feeling really good about myself.

***********************************

This was started a few weeks ago, I'm now in week 4 of the program. I've also signed up for my first 5K - the RocStar 5K - which supports Ovarian Cancer. I'm not sure I'll actually be able to run the entire race by then (I won't be completely through the C25K program by that time) but I am excited! My friend Lisa is running with me and has promised not to leave me behind! I am definitely no where near fast yet. But I do feel so very accomplished every time I finish a run. Its amazing to me that 10 months ago I was diagnosed with cancer and 8 months ago I could barely stand after two major surgeries. I never could have imagined back then that I would be at this point today.

I still hate running. 

But I love that I can run.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

OVCA - Treatment and My 2 Cents

The day I was diagnosed, I was told that I had to have a hysterectomy and then would need six rounds of chemotherapy. As a relatively young woman, and one who had not yet had children, I was devestated by the idea of a hysterectomy. I was also terrified of chemotherapy - how would I be able to work? Would I lose my hair? How sick will I be? It was completely overwhelming, especially since I was being told that it needed to happen immediately.

Before I get further into my experience, here are the basic facts about the most common types of treatment for ovarian cancer:

1) Surgery - Surgery to remove the cancerous growth is the most common method of diagnosis and therapy for ovarian cancer. It is best performed by a qualified gynecologic oncologist.
2) Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer using chemicals (medications) that travel through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing both in and outside the ovaries. Chemotherapy is used in the majority of cases as a follow-up therapy to surgery.
3) Radiation Therapy - Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

But according to my first doctor, I needed a full hysterectomy and chemotherapy. Immediately. And by immediately, I mean that she originally wanted me back in the OR within a few hours of telling me I had cancer. Without giving me time to process. Before my mom or any of my support system could be with me. Without even discussing any other options.

Luckily, my first response was panic and to dig in my heels.

For the next three days, my first doctor pressured me around the clock to allow her to take me back into surgery. She told me that I could be developing an infection and go into septic shock because the cyst had ruptured. She told me that the cancer could be spreading as we spoke. She told me no other doctor would tell me any differently. She told me it would take weeks to get a second opinion and that was time I didn't have to waste.

I was so very scared.

But I refused to accept her words and sought a second opinion anyway. Thankfully, I was able to get into to see Dr. R that same week. And we all remember his famous first words right?

Calm down.

Even after my first appointment with him, I had to go back to my first doctor for a incision check. She told me that Dr. R was misleading to me, that a hysterectomy was unavoidable. That there was "no being conservative" with ovarian cancer.

I felt so confused and hopeless.

Because of her words, when I went into surgery I was convinced that I would not be coming out with my reproductive system intact.

But she was wrong.

So, here are my 2 cents - for anyone out there who has recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. (Really for anyone who has recently been diagnosed with ANYTHING.)

Seek a second opinion.

For ovarian cancer, it is imperitive for you to be seen by a GYN Oncologist. For anything else, seek out specialists in whatever you are facing. Medicine is so specialized these days - find someone who really knows what they are talking about. I don't believe my first doctor was purposfully lying to me or leading me astray. I believe she didn't know any better. In her experience, women with ovarian cancer are almost always in a late stage and always require a hysterectomy.

But if I had believed her and followed her direction, I would be absolutely devestated right now. Not only because I had lost my ability to bear children. Not only because I would be in menopause at 32. Not only because I would be undergoing chemotherapy.

But because it was ultimately unneccesary.

So, please do your own research. Be your own advocate. And seek out a second opinion.

You will not regret it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

OVCA: Symptoms

This week is going to be education week here on the blog! The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2012, about 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and 15,500 women will die of ovarian cancer in the United States. So feel free to read and pass this info along to all the women in your life. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynelogical cancers.



Ovarian Cancer is known as the the disease that "whispers" because its symptoms are often subtle and go unrecognized for far too long. In an effort to encourage advocacy, I'm going to list the common symptoms and then talk about my own experience.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer:

Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
Pelvic discomfort or pain
Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
A persistent lack of energy
Low back pain


So, did I have any of those symptoms? Its so hard to say, hindsight being 20/20 and all that good stuff.

First, lets get past the ones I don't think I ever experienced:
- Abdominal pressure - not that I can remember
- Persistent indigestion - nope
- Bowel issues - not really
- Bladder issues - no
- Clothes fitting tighter - nope
- Low back pain - nope

 But there were a few that I think I might have:

- Feeling full quickly - I would sometimes feel full after eating a relatively small amount of food. Not just a little full, but that "I just ate way too much" feeling. But it wasn't consistent. I could still put away a bowl of pasta with the best of them when I felt like it. :)

- Persistent lack of energy - another one I wonder about. I was EXHAUSTED in the weeks right before my emergency surgery. But I was also working two jobs - usually more than 70 hours a week. This wasn't anything unusual, I'd been working two jobs for years, but two weeks prior to that first surgery, I actually quit my second job. Despite the free time, I was collapsing on my couch at about 8pm every night, unable to find any motivation to move again until I dragged myself to bed a couple hours later. Was it just adjusting to having free time again? Or the cancer? I wonder about this...

- Pelvic pain - of course I was feeling pain the night I went into the ER. But I'd had a very similar (though not as long lasting) pain the month before. At the time, I thought it was just bad cramps mixed with some constipation. (TMI, sorry!) But now I'm convinced it was the tumor on my ovary flaring up. Even more than that though, I've had that same pain (again, only lasting 4-6 hours each time) two other times during my life. Not any time recently, both were back in college, but it makes me wonder if it is all connected. Despite the absolute agony, I never went to the doctor any of those prior times. I'll be honest, this is one of my regrets. I wish that I had gone to the doctor about that pain in the past.

All in all, I had very few symptoms. Of course, my cancer was also caught very early so its hard to say if I would have developed more as it grew. But I definitely think we need to be paying better attention to our bodies. I was very cavalier about my health. I figured I was young, had few risk factors for developing any major disease, and I explained away some of the possible symptoms.

Please understand, I am not suggesting you rush off to the doctor for every little pain or tired day. But I have decided to take my health a lot more seriously these days. I no longer think its normal to be tired all the time. I no longer think persistent (or any acute) pain is "just getting older". And I'm certainly taking what I put into my body (nutritious food), products I use on my body (shampoo, lotions, etc), and what I surround my body with (chemicals, etc) a lot more seriously these days.

I encourage everyone to take charge of their health. Pay attention to what your body might be telling you. And if you truly feel that something is wrong, don't stop until your doctor can tell you what it is and what you can do to treat it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lucky Life List

Thanks to everyone who gave me ideas! I've settled on calling it my "Lucky Life List". If you read my post about being the Luckiest {unlucky} Girl, you know that I don't really believe in luck. But I do believe in blessings, gifts, and incredible moments of joy. So, while I'm calling it a "Lucky" list - its really a list that will keep track of all these blessings!

The list could already be a hundred pages long - filled with sweet stories, hilarious adventures, and quiet moments of peace. Just off the top of my head I would include:


1. White-water rafting - both times! Oh the hilarity!


2. Every summer at Camp C - I owe a lot of my faith to that place.


3. Being a bridesmaid - I know some people cringe at the thought, but I've loved being a part of my best friends' special day!


4. Last Christmas in New Orleans - it was a great vacation during a stressful time.


5. Childhood vacations at my Grandparents' farm - that place was magic.



6. Becoming a Godmother - such an honor, I love my godson and goddaughter so much!



7. The time a stranger complimented my besties and I in Panera because we "brought such a great energy to the room". Nice to know that even a stranger can see that we have something special going on between us!



8. Getting my first dog - its a long story, but gosh I love this little mutt. (And the second one!)



9. Three graduations - High School, College, Masters - each a major turning point in my life.



10. Hearing the good news after my second surgery.



I'll definitely be adding to this list over time - I'll be so excited to look back at it over time and remember what a lucky (blessed) life I've had!

Monday, September 3, 2012

OVCA Walk 2012

 
Even though September is offically Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Chicago's branch of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) holds their annual Walk to End the Silence in May.

When I was first diagnosed, I naturally attempted using the internet to gather information. Unfortunately, most of what I read was absolutely terrifying for someone who had just been diagnosed. Especially since I didn't yet know what stage my cancer was (although I'd been led to believe it must be in the later stages) the information I came across was completely overwhelming.

Luckily, I happened to find the NOCC website and they have a "newly diagnosed" packet that they will send out to anyone. It was honestly the first time that I read anything that gave me hope. They have a booklet full of "survivor stories" that helped me breathe a little easier and believe that just maybe this wasn't a death sentence. I was so grateful.

Then I had my second surgery and recovered and went back to work. I tried to push cancer as far out of my life as possible. It wasn't until after they found the cyst that I went back to the NOCC website looking for some support. I found good information and also learned about the annual walk. I hesitated for a minute before sending in an email to volunteer.


I woke up bright and early to work at the registration tents. I did not really know what to expect but it ended up being a very profound experience for me. I was heartened to see so many people come and support bringing awareness to a disease that I really had barely known about 6 months prior. But I was also devestated and overwhelmed by some parts of the day.

I worked with two young women, no older than myself, who had lost their mom to ovarian cancer. I watched "teams" of people arrive with matching colorful shirts or signs that announced they were walking in honor or memory of a loved one. It was usually easy to tell if a group was an "honor" or "memory" team.

Teams walking in "honor" of someone often had themed shirts or posters that focused on the fight. They were sometimes humorous and always inspiring. There were some pretty awesome slogans made up for the team - I wish I had written some down!

The teams walking in "memory" broke my heart a thousand times over during the morning. Their shirts spoke about God needing more angels and usually featured pictures of the loved one. There were also stickers that participants could pick up and write their survivors names. I was shocked to watch time and again as people would stop and write the names of multiple loved ones they had lost.

There were a number of cool pieces of the event - including a survivor's picture and huge banners full of survivors' handprints from past walks. I didn't participate in most of them for a number of reasons that I'll blog about later, but mostly because I was busy volunteering. Once everyone left to begin the walk, I wandered through the booths and talked to a few people. Anytime I shared my experience, I was surprised by the thrilled look on people's faces when I told them I was Stage 1. Don't get me wrong, most people who hear my story are glad that it wasn't "too serious" but few really understand the significance. But the people at this event know exactly how miraculous it is to get diagnosed early. To not have to undergo chemo. To not have to have a hysterectomy. To have a good chance of long term survival. As hard as it was to witness everyone who hadn't been as "lucky" as me, it was amazing to be around people who "get it".

As I was about to leave the walk, I ran into someone I'd been hoping to meet...


I found Kathleen through a very old blog that she had started when she was first diagnosed. I was specifically looking for women like myself - young, diagnosed early, minimal treatment needed. Kathleen's blog not only struck a chord of familiarity, I learned she lived in the area. So, I tracked her down via email and then she stalked me back on Facebook. She has been an absolute lifesaver during the aftermath of surgeries, bloodtests, ultrasounds, and follow up appointments. Always willing to answer a million and two questions! I'm so grateful to have met her - both online and in real life!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September

Well, its here

 - September -

also known as

- Ovarian Cancer
Awareness Month -

I'm not going to lie, I'm reluctant to spend any more time thinking, talking, least of all writing about ovarian cancer than I absolutely have to right now. I hate the idea of any more of my time being taken up by cancer.

But it would be selfish not to recognize how important it is for other people to know more about this disease. Because unlike many other cancers, there is no routine screening or test done to attempt to diagnose it early. Many people find out by complete accident - much like I did. But unlike me, most people still find out when its already in its very advanced stages. And as I've noted before, the survival rates for later stage ovarian cancer are extrememly poor.

So, I'm going to blog a little bit more than I'd like to about ovarian cancer this month. About the signs, symptoms, and a little bit more about my own thoughts and experiences. Hopefully, getting the information out there will help women be more aware of how they can protect themselves.

Welcome to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Camp Rachie 2012!

Camp Rachie started as a joke last summer when Bug, Bean and their cousins all came and stayed for two nights while their parents attended a family wedding. This year had fewer campers - just Bug and Bean - but we still had a ton of fun over four days!  (Don't mind the picture quality, these are camera pics - using the fancy camera is hard when your running after two kids!)

 One of the first things we did was make popsicles. I took the girls to a local fruit market and we picked up tons of fresh fruit. Then we used my new juicer to make delicious combinations - lemon/raspberry/grape and blueberry/raspberry/strawberry were my favorites. The girls got a kick out of putting the fruit in the juicer and took turns pressing the button. 


We then took a walk to the park down the street and played hard in the hot sun. Those popsicle were so good! 


The next day our big adventure was going on a "El" train tour. We boarded one of the trains and just took them all over town! We went down to the loop, took the trains out near my job, made sure the girls got a glimpse of the Lake, and took the subway too. The girls thought it was so cool and were such troopers!


The next day the girls' mom and brother plus our friend Sarah and her little one all came into the city. We braved public transportation again and made our way to "The Bean". This was especially exciting given that our Bean had never been to the Bean! The kids thought it was pretty cool. We then made a VERY long trek down to Chick-fil-a for lunch. Lisa took Bean home with her because I had big plans for Bug the next day!


I took Bug to her first waterpark about 3 years ago now and its kind of become a tradition. Most of the ones we have gone to have been smaller kiddie parks. But this year I took her to a full fledged water park - she was SO excited. We went with a few of my girlfriends and their kids. She loved playing with the other kids and was so brave going down the bigger slides. She still isn't quite ready for the grown up slides - but I bet by next summer I will be standing in some long lines with her! 


Such a fun weekend was had by all. I can't wait until next summer for Camp Rachie again!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Last Michigan Photoshoot

The very next weekend after the wedding, I made a very fast and furious trip to see my dear friends before their big move. Chris and Lisa are taking a huge leap of faith and moving their family so that Chris can attend seminary and become a pastor! I’m so excited for them and so proud of them.
 
 
One of the big reasons I decided to go is because Lisa really wanted “one last photoshoot” of their family on the beach of Lake Huron. I am never one to turn down a chance to photograph this darling family. Hilarious fact? I bought every article of clothing they are wearing except for the boys pants for less than $35! Aren’t they a good looking bunch?


 
 (Click any picture to enlarge)
I also took a ridiculous amount of pictures of all three of the kids. But that is pretty much normal behavior. Even three year old Bean has picked up on the fact that every time Rachie comes, there will be pictures taken!


These dandelion (wishers!) pictures were so much fun! I love getting the girls to try out new things - they really are good sports.


Bug perfected her "princess smile" during this trip. She tends to get a little cheesy in her grins sometimes, so we worked on "gentle smiles...like a princess" and then she would usually give me some good real smiles too. I love that girl and she loves to pose! 


Bean is definitely in a cheesy smile stage but she's just so cute, I don't want it to change! She has had the most expressionate face since she was born!


Fuzzy is just the happiest guy around - it was no problem getting him to smile for the camera...staying still is a lesson for another visit!


It was a crazy 48hour trip, but I’m so glad I got to visit them one last time before their big move. (Which will actually be putting them about an hour closer to me soon!)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pursue: Anti Bucket List

Okay, I need help coming up with a term for what I would call an "anti bucket list". I've never particularly cared for the idea of a bucket list. A list of "wishes" that one attempts to get around to before they kick the bucket has always seemed a little morbid to me.

But there are definitely times when I catch myself during a particular experience or event and think, "this should have been on my bucket list... if I had one". You know the types of experiences - "firsts", especially special days, maybe even something that you thought would never actually happen. Those types of things that just make your life feel a little more complete?

One of the things I'm trying to "pursue" this year is really noticing those moments. I want to keep track of those moments somehow. I figure a blog is a good a place as any, right? But it needs a name!

So what would you call this list? Give me some ideas - throw them out there! Help a girl out!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wedding Bells

A month after my trip to Texas, I was beyond excited to attend the wedding of one of my dearest friends. The weather was a little touch and go but the bride was in good spirits all day. No doubt there is a lot of love between these two and I was so excited to be part of their big day!
I’ll mostly let the pictures of the day speak for themselves – the joy of the day is evident on everyone's faces!

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The bride getting ready for her big day - she was so calm, no cold feet here!




Pictures at the venue prior to the wedding - as you can see, they are not a serious bunch... 


Then it was time for the moment we were all here to witness - the "I do's"! 




Then downstairs for mingling with friends, delicious food, cutting the cake and toasts to the happy couple.




Then the dancing began! It went on to the wee hours of the morning and ended with a improptu stepping routine from the groom and his brother's old fraternity days.




I just couldn’t be happier for both of them!

For more pictures from a real professional, check out their spread on Style Me Pretty!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Texas Trip!!

Ok really - catching up! Apparently, I have to go all the way back to April!

During that really rough time right after I learned aboutthe cyst, I went on vacation to visit some friends in Texas. I’ll be honest and say that I almost didn’t. I was so scared that the cancer was back and that I’d have to have more surgery and take more time off work that I wasn’t sure I could justify taking time off for FUN.
Thank goodness I have a mom.

She reminded me that living me life worrying about and mentally preparing for reoccurrence is not at all what I want. She convinced me that this was exactly what I needed. And she was right, as usual.

So, off to Texas I went! I spent five days with my friend Kat and her family, taking an impromptu roadtrip all around southern Texas. After flying into San Antonio and spending the night at her house, we loaded the kiddos into the car and drove to South Padre Island. Despite the fact that we were only there for 24 hours, we sure packed a lot of excitement into the day!

After a quick late night stroll on the beach we went in search of dinner and a much needed margarita. We didn’t get any old margarita though, we got smoking margaritas complete with dry ice special effects! Can’t beat that right?

(Click any picture to enlarge)
The next morning we got up early to hit the beach! So much fun was had putting our feet in the (freezing) water and finding random sea creatures that had washed up on shore.


We also buried my godson in the sand – because what trip to the beach is complete without burying someone in the sand?



We packed up to leave the hotel and got randomly suckered into buying tickets to go dolphin watching! I was a little suspicious that we would end up just watching the water, but it was awesome! First, on the ride out to the dolphins, they let out a net that captures all kinds of sea life. They dump it all in a big tank on deck and have a little “show and tell” time. Puffer fish, catfish, lots of little crabs, seaweed, a starfish and even a tiny squid! They let us touch all the ones that were safe to touch and then dumped them all back in the gulf when we were done. Pretty neat!



Then we actually got out to the place where the dolphins swim! I expected we’d maybe see one or two, but we ended up seeing dozens! The sightings were brief (these aren’t Sea World performers) but definitely exciting and very cool to see up close.


After leaving South Padre, we drove down to the “Valley” where I lived in Junior High! We toured our old school and took pictures around our old spots. I also got to attend church and was shocked that people recognized me.  I mentally calculated that I hadn’t been there in almost 20 years! (SO OLD!)

After dropping the kiddos off with family, Kat and I went to meet up with another good friend from our younger years. Joe was getting married that weekend and we were so excited to reunite and attend the wedding!


The next day we had to head back up to San Antonio and the day after that I flew back home. Such a fun trip filled with great friends and fond memories. So thankful to have such a great long-lasting friendships!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Getting Back to the Good Stuff

So much to blog about! I’m at least three months behind on all of the good (aka non-ovary related) stuff that has been going on in my life. And there has been A LOT of fun.

Most recently, I have been spending almost every waking hour that I am not at work watching the Olympics - please tell me I'm not the only one! Thank goodness pretty much everything I'm really interested in is over. I am clearly too old to be staying up until almost midnight on a work day!

Gymnastics is easily my favorite and the women's gymnastics team really kept me on the edge of my seat all week. That little Gabby Douglas is just amazing and I was SO happy for Aly Raisman for pulling out the bronze and silver in her last two event finals.

In all of my googling and Internet searching about current and past Olympic gymnasts, I came across something I didn't expect. Remember Shannon Miller?


(For anyone who wasn't glued to their televisions back during the 1996 Olympics - she was one of the "Magnificent Seven" who took home the first US Gold in the Gymnastics All Around.)



I am not sure if it didn't make big news when she was first diagnosed back in January 2011 or if I just didn't notice. Sufficed to say, ovarian cancer was no where near being on my radar a year ago. But she is one of many people trying to bring more awareness and I couldn't be more inspired. Even though all I read says that statistically someone in their thirties has barely any chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I keep finding more stories that say differently.

Shannon was only a year older than me (33) when she was diagnosed and luckily hers was also caught early. Even though the doctors believe they were able to remove all the cancer through surgery, Shannon elected to have three rounds of chemotherapy as a preventative measure.



She is a year out from chemo now and doing very well from what I can tell. I love hearing stories of women who have caught their cancer young and seem to be thriving. It definitely gives me hope and reminds me that my own experience has been much more similar to these uplifting experiences than the prospect of doom and gloom that I was initially told was destined to be my story.

So, even though I said this blog was going to become more about the fun and less about ovaries - the reality is that my life is completely intertwined with cancer these days. Even when I'm just trying to watch the Olympics! Ok, I promise the next post will be ovary-free. But September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so you can bet I'll have more to talk about ovaries then!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Start/Stop

The title pretty much sums up how I feel about my life these days.

I get scary test results, everything stops.

Then Dr R tells me to keep going, that we will see how things are in another month, so I start living my life again.

During these "in between" times, it is actually pretty easy to keep my mind off the uncertainty of the future. My life is full and busy - especially in the summertime. So, the weeks speed by and before I know it, the time has come for another round of tests and the agonizing wait to find out what the results will mean.

Which is where we are again now.

(And I'm sorry I hadn't even updated the blog from last time!)

Today I had another ultrasound. This time with some positive results! The tech thinks that the cyst looks significantly smaller. Yay!! I'm not an doctor, but it sounds like a step in the right direction. I'll have my blood drawn on Saturday and find out the results in an appointment with Dr. R on Monday.

Meanwhile, I'm going to try to focus on all the good things going on right now - and post about them here! I never wanted this blog to just be about cancer. Especially since it is really such a relatively small piece of my life right now.

But as always, prayers are greatly appreciated. These tests and wait times are very stressful for me. I handle them a little less well each month it seems. I couldn't do it without the support I get from all of you!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Here we go again

Backing up a little for those who don't get the play by play... I was having some minor pain on my right side last week and called Dr. R's office to inform them. (This was something they drilled into me right after surgery - no pain is too minor, call for everything!) They decided to move up my next ultrasound and blood test - it was originally supposed to happen again next month. So, yesterday I went in and had both done early in the day. I didn't get any immediate results from the ultrasound, because I was sent to a new office to have it done and they just send it to my doctor. And I never find out the results of the blood test, so I was prepared to just wait until I saw Dr. R for my scheduled appointment on Friday.

Then last night, later than I thought my doctor's office worked, I got a call from a Physician's Assistant (not my regular one, because she is actually leaving the practice - boo!). She informed me that the results of both tests were back and wanted to give me a "heads up" before my appointment on Friday. My ultrasound results show that the cyst is still there and while it doesn't look like its getting any bigger, the pictures from yesterday's scan seem to indicate that it is wrapped around my ovary. More concerning is the results from my blood work though. If you recall, three months ago the number was 11 and a month ago it was 19 which is right in the middle of "normal" range. But yesterday it was 31, which is the highest it can be and still be considered "normal". While it is still technically normal, the fact that it is steadily increasing is concerning. From the tone in the PA's voice when she said, "we will be talking about the next steps on Friday", I knew things were not looking good. She promised to page Dr. R in the morning and get some clarification for me.

I called my mom and she has decided to fly here tomorrow so that she can be here for the appointment on Friday. We might be over-reacting a little bit, but it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

First thing this morning, I got a phone call from the PA again. (Have I mentioned recently how awesome and wonderful and compassionate Dr. R's team always is? They are.) She reassured me that they are trying to do whatever they can to avoid surgery again. So, they sent my ultrasounds to another department to see if draining the cyst is a possibility. Unfortunately, as I was writing this, she called to say that draining it won't be a possibility because it is too small. (Which should sound positive, but I fear just means that we can't get any definite answers.) I have a CT scheduled for tomorrow (it was already scheduled and it may give us a little more information, but probably not too much) and then will be seeing Dr. R on Friday to talk about where to go from here. I'm pretty calm right now, just hoping and praying for answers without surgery. Which is what I am asking you to pray for too.

Specific Prayer Requests:
1. Please pray for some answers. I am really struggling with this wait and see game but certainly don't like the idea of a THIRD major surgery.
2. Please pray that this is not cancerous and that surgery can be avoided completely.
3. Please pray for Dr. R and the rest of the medical team - that they continue to make wise choices.
4. Please thank God for putting me in such capable and compassionate hands. I really can not say enough good things about the care that I have been in with these doctors, PAs, nurses, etc.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Holding Steady

So sorry that I didn't update you all sooner! (For future reference, I update Facebook immediately after doctors appointments with the short version - so feel free to email me for my FB link.)

The doctors' appointments last week went pretty well and things seem to be holding steady right now. The ultrasound doctor (different one than last time) as much more positive from the get-go, which meant that the 6 hour wait between appointments was much less stressful than anticipated. He said that the cyst is looking much more like a peritoneal or ovarian cyst. This was great news, because last time they basically couldn't get a good read on it at all. It also looked marginally smaller - not a lot, but a little is better than nothing!

A friend came with me to this appointment - which was a huge help since I also got A LOT of information! I will give myself full credit for getting this info, I came with a list of 24 typed up questions. I handed to the nurse when I was first taken back to an exam room and by the time Avery (Dr. R's PA) came in, she had already written answers to about 3/4 of them. She explained as much as she could, then left the rest to Dr. R.

Dr. R was much more positive during this appointment as well. In many ways, nothing much has really changed - the cyst is still there, we don't really know what it is, there is still a chance at surgery - but he was just more reassuring. (That's the Dr. R that I know and love!)

We are going to try a few things in hopes that it will either a) help the cyst go away or b) at least give us a better idea of what it is. I will go back in two months for my regular CT scan and blood test, as well as another ultrasound. Until then, I'm holding steady and feeling positive.

Thanks again for everyone who follows along, sends prayers and positive thoughts, and supports me during these trying times. I know I've said it a lot - but I wouldn't be handling this half as well without each and every one of you!

I also have some way more fun blog posts in store - excited to focus on the more important things in life?!

Me too.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quick Update

I am just dropping in to give a few quick updates. I had my blood drawn on Monday - to test my CA-125 levels. Hopefully they will still be nice and low when I get the results tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the big day - or at least the next "big day" on the calendar. I have my follow up ultrasound appointment at 9am, then will wait around for the doctors all to write, send and read the reports. At 2:30pm I have my appointment with Dr. R to discuss all the findings and options.

I do have a friend coming with me this time - so grateful for each of the ways people have stepped up in my life, I am truly a very lucky girl. She has a copy of a list of 20+ questions that I want to make sure I get answers to before tomorrow's appointment is over. (At which point I'll probably have at least twenty new questions!) My mom will also be on the phone so that she can hear the details first hand.

I already have phone calls and tentative appointments set up with 3 different doctors for second opinions. Once I know for sure that I need one, I'll make my final decision about which one I'll actually choose.

Thank you all for all your love - I just can't say that enough.

Specific Prayers for tomorrow:

1. Please pray that the cyst is gone - COMPLETELY GONE.
2. Please pray that my CA-125 levels are still low.
3. Please pray for discretion and wisdom in my decision making.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Checking In

Well, over the last three weeks a lot of fun stuff has happened and I intend to blog about it as soon as possible. But first, I want to give you all the full story about my last doctor appointment with Dr. R. The one I briefly wrote about here but was deliberately vague about because I was too confused and overwhelmed to really discuss it.

The gist of it is that Dr. R is recommending another surgery and a hysterectomy.

It took some time, talking to various friends and family, and then some follow up calls to Dr. R's office before I felt like I understood exactly what and why this was happening. The cyst is being referred to as a "peritoneal cyst" and they aren't particularly uncommon - especially in people who have had major abdominal surgery. Initially when Dr. R walked into my room he talked about waiting 6 weeks and re-evaluating at that time. But as we continued talking, and I continued asking questions, the conversation turned to treatment options. There are lots of options to consider:

  • Leaving the cyst inside me is risky because it could contain cancerous cells.
  • Three surgeries in a year is rough on my body.
  • Removing my uterus and ovary reduces the places cancer can hide and multiply.
  • Menopause at 32 is no picnic and has a myriad of negative side effects.
  • Removing my uterus and ovary doesn't guarantee the cancer won't come back in other places.
If you are me, hearing that list above, you might be thinking - there seem to be more "cons" than "pros" to doing another surgery. In fact, the more I thought about it, the less I understood why surgery was the better option. So, I called Dr. R's office and asked for clarification.

Basically, what I was told was this:

  1. It is very rare for 32 year olds to get ovarian cancer. (Average age is 63.)
  2. When someone as young as me does have ovarian cancer, it isn't the type I have.
  3. Because my cancer has already proved to be "abnormal", Dr. R wants to be more aggressive and give me a better "outcome". (Dr talk for "live longer".)
So, that is where we are at right now. Dr. R did seem open to a longer-term "wait and see" option - meaning that after this 6 week ultrasound would be another one in about 2 months, and then after that it would become part of my quarterly CT scan/blood test follow up appointments. As long as it doesn't grow, my blood tests don't change, and/or other cysts don't appear - we could keep monitoring it indefinitely. But it doesn't sound like that is his first choice.

But the wonderful thing about Dr. R is that he understands that he isn't the only one making decisions here. He very clearly said, "this is your choice". I appreciate that he realizes that I have to be part of this decision making process. And part of the way I will make that decision is probably going to be another second opinion. Its not that I don't trust Dr. R, but once again I feel the need to have more than one "expert opinion" before I can make the "final decision".

I feel very strongly about this.
This is my life we are talking about.
And my life is about more than just how many years I get to be here on Earth.

So, here I am asking for your SPECIFIC PRAYERS again.

1. Please pray that the cyst is gone - COMPLETELY GONE - when I go in for my next ultrasound in two weeks.
2. Please pray that my CA-125 levels are still low when I have my next blood draw in about a week.
3. Please pray that I will find another doctor that I feel I can trust to give me a second opinion - I'll be looking/calling for appointments this week so that they are ready when these test results come back in a couple weeks.
4. Please pray for discretion and wisdom in my decision making.

Thank you all so much - I know I am asking for a lot here, but nothing is too big for God right? I might as well aim high! :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pursue: Exercise

As I talked about before, I'm working on pursuing better health this year - which inevitably means figuring out some new exercise plans!

I am not particularly athletic - I'm actually known for being somewhat of a klutz! But there are some forms of exercise that I do enjoy:

*yoga
*elliptical machine
*swimming
*any kind of dance

But unfortunately, most of those can't be done easily (or cheaply) in my own home. Which is kind of a requirement of mine right now. The first time I tried to work out after my surgery, I was shocked at how little I could do. As in, I tried to do one jumping jack and couldn't get my feet off the floor. It wasn't that I wasn't trying - but having your abdominal muscles sliced and diced means a whole lot of things just don't work the way they used to! So, I feel too self conscious to go out to a gym or workout class of any kind. I need my own space and time to figure out a new way to get my body to do all the things that I took for granted a couple months ago.

So, I decided that I would buy some workout videos and also commit to doing more walking (eventually jogging hopefully). After hearing and then doing my own research, I bought some of these ugly shoes -

Yes, I'm going to be a barefoot/minimalist walker. Go ahead and laugh - my best friends did when I first told them! But I hate shoes in general and there is a lot of research out there that going barefoot is better for your joints and body overall. So, I'm giving it a whirl!

So far I've been walking about 3 times a week and gradually increasing my distance and pace. I did a full mile the other day and was pretty proud of myself!

Then I also bought some DVDs to work out to in the comfort of my living room - Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred and a AM/PM Yoga workout.

I love the yoga DVD - the stretching and breathing is great for helping me relax after a long day. Plus, yoga is supposed to be great for toning the "core" muscles - which I definitely need!

The 30 Day Shred is my nemisis though - it seems like it shouldn't be THAT hard, the individual exercises themselves aren't that complicated to do. But put them all together with Jillian's "encouragement" and I want to keel right over. But I can't deny that it is a great workout and I have felt the changes in my strength and stamina change over just a few days.

Which is exactly how long I stick with it before something distracts me. So far the longest I've done it in a row is 5 days. Two other times I've only made it two days! So, the other day I decided I needed some external motivation (other than just the getting healthier and feeling stronger - silly, I know!). So, I went back to my childhood and made myself a paper chain!

First I pulled out a magazine and found colorful advertisments. I thought about getting out the scrapbook paper, but that would have just aided in my procrastination!


Then I cut them into strips - I cut the long way and got 4 per page.



Then I began linking them up - I didn't use any kind of pattern, just put them together at random.



Piper needed to check out what was going on of course...


Once I had 28 links (I was already on day 2), I hung it up in my living room so that I can't avoid seeing it.

Also, I'm pretty sure its staring at me too.


 Tearing off those links will hopefully inspire me to keep going this time! We will see!