Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cancer- What About Hair

One thing that Danny said attracted him to me was 1. When he would whistle at me as I was walking down the street, I would ignore him, and 2.  My hair.  Back in those times ( a long, long time ago) my hair came down between my shoulders.  It wasn't exceptionally long, but considering the style of the times, it was. After we married, I kept it long because he liked it.  At the time we moved to Alaska in 2009, my hair fell to my knees.  I kept it rolled in a french-twist during the day because in the work field I felt it was more business-like having it up, but he loved it when I wore it down.

When we moved to Alaska, we were surprised at how awful the water was.  When we thought of Alaska, we pictured pristeen streams with clear blue water finding its way over cobblestones.  In Salcha where we lived, the water coming out of the taps was yellow.  It smelled of rotten eggs.  The bathtub and toilets needed cleaned everyday or else they would coat with an orangish/yellow film.  This was normal for the area.  After a few weeks of washing my hair with that water, it felt more like straw than hair.  When I came to Utah back for a few weeks in 2010 to take care of some business, I made a rash decision.  I cut my hair off.  I had called Danny prior and explained that if I was going to live in Alaska, it and long hair just wouldn't work.  He agreed with me.  When he met me at the airport, he was sitting at the base of the escalator when I came down.  He didn't even recognize me until I walked up and kissed him.  He didn't like it like he did my long hair, but he loved me anyway. When Danny died and I moved back to Utah, I let my hair grow out again...for him.

I was destined for chemotherapy and felt it was time to do something about the hair I was most likely to lose. Susan and I made a trip to Orem to Diane's Wig shop and I tried on about every wig in the store.  We settled on one that was pretty much my natural hair color.  I also tried on one that was gray.  If my hair came back in gray, perhaps instead of trying to keep it colored, I would just let it be.  I didn't look as bad in gray hair as I thought I would.  Next, I decided I would cut my hair while I still could and give it to Locks of Love.  As long as I had to go through this, I figured I might as well try to make something positive come out of it.  With Shannon and Haley here with me, I decided I had the moral support I needed to go make the first step of the change that was coming.  Haley called and got an appointment with a stylist at the Orem Mall and we set of to complete step one.  As I was getting ready to leave the house, my daughter-in-law hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and told me she was sorry I had to get my hair cut.  Taking a deep breath, I told her it was okay.  My hair didn't define who I was as a person.  She hugged me again and told me no it didn't.  I also knew that wherever it was Danny was at, waiting for me, he would love me with long hair, short hair or no hair.

I had decided to take this hair deal in steps.  First, I would cut it short and then when the time came for chemotherapy I would have my head shaved.  Having my head shaved seemed harsh to me.  I have had short hair and knew I could deal with it, but having no hair was something I was going to need to adjust too.  Even with a wig, that I decided no one would see me without, I would still be the one looking in the mirror.  As I sit here writing this today, and with chemo looming in the near future, I know it is something I will need to "Sophia Up" and deal with.  Sophia is my little mom who raised and supported nine children, some during the depression era.  It has been her strength I have drawn upon so many times throughout my life.

Tomorrow is my appointment with my oncologist.  Mom will be with me.    

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cancer-Need to Tell My Children

 As I hung up the phone from talking to my doctor, my cute little daughter-in-law was in the kitchen fixing dinner.  She had overheard my conversation.

"I'm so sorry," she said.  "What do I do?  What should I do?  I know.  I'll give you a hug."

Her hug was just what I needed.

I called my kids and told them. "Mom, that's not a funny April Fool's joke!" Haley said.  I hadn't realized it was April Fool's Day.  Then I called my sister Lola.  She and I have been so worried about coming down with Alzheimer's Disease.  Our mother died of it along with our sisters Mary, Fran and Jeri. Our brother Chris was also diagnosed with it.  Alzheimer's was the monster that lurked in the shadows of our minds; one we were afraid would rear it's ugly head and attack the two of us.  Cancer had sneaked up on me.  To say to myself "I have cancer" seemed surreal.  I sat for a few minutes and let it settle in and then I did what was perfectly normal.  I went to Rainee's to have her put a rinse on my hair.

So many times in my life as a mother, my children and their warped senses of humor is what has saved my sanity (or lack thereof).  I sat on the stool as Rainee squeezed color onto my hair and laughed.

"You know Mom," she said, "if you make the decision you don't want to do chemo or any of that stuff, I will take the money out of my 401K and we will take off and see the world.  We'll go anyplace you want to go.  I'll call the travel channel and tell them my mom is dying of cancer and I am taking her out to fill her bucket list.  They will be following us all around the world taping our adventure.  Just one thing though mom.  Don't get upset with me if I use the "F" word."

"You're not going to say the "F word," I told her.  "The whole world will be watching us."

"We should be able to make a lot of money, mom.  We could make enough to have all the kids come along with us.  In that case, I definately will be saying the "F" word."

"Mom, I can cancel my trip this weekend," she said.  She and her husband had scheduled a trip to Cancun.

"You don't need to cancel your trip," I told her.  "There is nothing you can do right now. I had an appointment scheduled with the surgeon and Lola was going with me.

My appointment was for two days later at 1:45.  We had it arranged that Lola drive down from Centerville, would pick me up and we would go to Provo together.  At 11:00 the surgeon's office called.  They needed me to come right in.  I called Lola and told her she didn't need to come.  I was headed straight to the office. I met with him and surgery was scheduled for the following Wednesday on April 9.  The type of cancer I had was Triple Negative.  It is a pretty agressive type of cancer; the type that would need surgery and then chemotherapy.

When I got out of the doctor's office I saw Lola had tried to call me.  She had come down anyway and met me to go to lunch.

I went home afterward and laid down on my bed.  I was so tired, I fell sound asleep.  Suddenly a voice said "Hey, Mom!"  I sat up startled out of my sleep.  I thought Mark had come in and needed something, but when I sat up, no one was there.  I know it was Daren letting me know he was with me.

Rainee left for Cancun on April 6th and I told her I would come over and stay a few days wtih Raydan while they were gone.  Susan said she would pick me up at Rainee's at six in the morning the day of my surgery and take me to Provo to the hospital.

I heard her car pull in and heard her talking to someone.  I thought perhaps she was talking to her husband on the phone, but when I opened the door there she stood with Sheree.  Sheree had driven down from Idaho the night before.  We met Lola at the hospital and with my little army of loving soldiers waiting for me, I entered surgery.

The summer after Daren died, I dowloaded some songs onto my iphone that I would walk to.  The songs were ones that meant a lot to me and Danny and then ones we had played at Daren's funeral.  Whenever I would start walking, the songs would shuffle and the first song to play would be Dean Martin singing "Everyboyd Loves Somebody Sometime".  As I was rolled into the surgical room, that was the song that was playing over the intercom.  Tears started rolling down my cheeks and the little nurse asked "Are you okay?"  I was so okay.  Danny was there with me.

Surgery went well.  The lump was removed along with about a 4" diameter to make certain they got it all. As they rolled me back into recovery, two additional faces greeted me.  Shannon and Haley had flown in from Alaska.  Once again the tears came.  I'm so blessed to be so loved.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cancer-The Beginning

In November of 2013, I took two Advils and headed to my appointment for a mammogram at Mountain View Hospital.  The Advils were my idea.  My theory being if I took a pain medication before I went, by the time I got there they would have kicked in and the mammogram wouldn't be painful.  Although, I must say that mammograms aren't that painful to begin with.  I had felt lumps in both breasts, but that was nothing new for me.  I had been diagnosed with fibroid cysts for years and told they were nothing to worry about.  A difference this time was they wouldn't go away.  Usually, I would feel one, and then in a month or two it would be gone.  This time however they were sticking around.

I arrived at the hospital on time, checked in and then put on one of the lovely gowns usually provided by hospitals.  (I think someone could make a lot of money if they could invent a better hospital gown.)  The xrays were taken, and I asked the techincian if I could look at what she was seeing.  Both breasts were showing huge black marks on the screen.  "Is that them?" I asked and she said it was.  She said she would have a radiologist take a look at them and then see if I should have an ultrasound done or not.  She came back and said they did want to do an ultrasound. The radiologist took a look and said that because they were black was an indiction they were fluid filled cysts.  So they sent me home with instructions to come back in six months.  A couple of days later, I caught a plane to Alaska to spend a couple of months with my children up there.

In March, I received a letter from the hospital telling me it was time for a follow-up mammogram, so I made an appointment for the 27th of March.  Once again, I took my Advils and headed off to the hospital.  The mammogram showed the same lumps, I was told I should have an ultra sound so I did.  The technician said they looked like fluid filled cysts but he would take them and show them to the radiologist.  He asked if I could wait.  I stayed laying on the table while until the radiologist came into the room with the technician.  He told the techician he wanted to look at the surrounding areas of the cysts.  I watched the screen, not really understanding what it was I was looking at.  Then the raidiologist said "There.  Stop there.  I looked at the screen to seen "red squigglies" (my medical/technical terms for what ended up being a blood flow through the cysts.)

"You're going to need a biopsy," he said.  "Contact your primary care physician and let him know so your insurance company can be contacted.  We will send the reports on to him.

It was already past closing time at my doctor's office, so I called him the next morning and a biopsy was scheduled for the following Monday; three days away.  I didn't tell my children.  I didn't want them to worry unnessisarily and I knew that if I let my Idaho and Alaska girls know, they would be on a plane headed home.  I did however tell my daughter Susan (who is a nurse) and my daughter Rainee because she was one of my contact persons.  Susan said she would pick me up and take me to the hospital.  I had decided rather than take my Advils, I would result in taking a anxiety medication I had filled when Daren had passed away.  
I wasn't really worried, but I did feel a sense of urgency.  I had bookwork that needed done before the dreaded April 15 tax season.  I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. that morning and got caught up. I recalled back in 1996 when I had to have an emergency hysterectomy.  My sisters-in-law came to the hospital to see me after my surgery and I was sitting up in bed with papers spread across the little table usually used to set your meals on.  I was invoicing.  Danny and I had our own construction company and there was still stuff to be done rather I was hooked up to IV's or not.  That was my mentality, not Danny's.

Susan and I had it planned.  She would come to get me.  I would take my anxiety meds and by the time we got to the hospital, I would be feeling pretty good.  But "the best layed plans of mice and men".  The hospital called and told me I needed to come right over.  I left my anxiety meds on my nightstand, called Susan and told her to meet me at the hospital and took off.  I have to say honestly that the biopsies sucked.

I was told I would be getting a call on the results in two or three days.  The next day, there was a call on my voicemail from my doctor.  He gave me his cell number and told me to call him.  I knew the results weren't good.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Daren's Letter - April 11, 2014

Hello Sweetheart:

I just wanted to let you know I heard you call to me on the 8th of April.  I laid down on my bed and was so exhausted from not being able to sleep.  I fell sound asleep though and woke to you calling "Hey Mom!"  I woke up startled, thinking for a minute it was Mark who was calling me.  I sat up on the side of the bed to see what he wanted, but no one was there...that I could see anyway.  Then, it dawned on me it was you I had heard.  I know you've been with me Dare.  I have felt strength from you when I needed strength and peace from you when I needed peace.  I love you so much.

I hope you can stay by me a little longer.  The surgery is over, but now its on to the chemo therapy and I am worried about it.  I know I will come out of it okay, it's just the process that troubles me.  I know I will be much stronger with you and your dad close by.

Speaking of your dad, you know I have downloaded songs onto my Iphone that I play when I walk.  And you know the first one that plays is "Everybody Loves Somebody, Sometime" with Dean Martin.  Well, when I was wheeled into surgery on Wednesday, that was the song that greeted me.  Tears came because I knew he was there with me as I knew you were.

When I came out of surgery, I was met with the beautiful faces of your sisters, Susan, Shannon, Sheree,and Haley.  Your Aunt Lola was there too.  How blessed I felt having them there for support and knowing you and your dad were just a breath away.  I knew too that Rainee was there with me in spirit even though miles and miles separated us.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring honey.  I don't know what lays around the corner of next week or next month.  I do know however that whatever it is, it will be okay.  All will be as its meant to be.  I know, I will not shed this jacket of a body until I've learned the lessons I was sent to this school of life to learn.  And I'm still not very smart.  I have a lot of learning left to do.

Honey, gather together your band of angels and watch over your boys.  Life is not as easy for them with you gone.  They have been thrown into manhood and it has not been an easy adjustment for them.  Talk to who you need to talk to to guide Vince and Crush, to lift them up when they are weary, to let them glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel when they are discouraged,to help them choose the right road to take, and good people along their way.  They are good boys with good hearts.  You know that though, since it was you who made them that way.

Well my darling boy, once more I tell you I love you.  Once more I tell you I miss you.  Once more I say how glad I am to have been your mom.  Give a hug to all those that are there with you; all those who have a piece of my heart. especially that guy you call your dad.

Sweet Peace My Darling Son,

Your Mom

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Letter to Danny - April 8, 2013

Hi Honey:

I woke this morning thinking "Well here it is; another pivotal time in life." It's a time when everything is different again.  Where the world I have been building since you left is now twirling around like its been caught up in a tornado and I don't know when or where I will land again.

The first siting of the tornado was twelve days ago when I followed up on a mammogram I had six months ago.  At that time, there had been lumps, but I was told they were just water-filled cysts and nothing to worry about, but to come back in six months.

Mark and Dawna and the family were going camping down at Moab.  They asked me to go, but instead, I called and scheduled my follow-up exam.  The mammogram again showed the cysts and another ultrasound was performed.  This time, the screen showed blood flowing through a couple; a sign they just weren't water filled.  I was told I should have a biopsy and was scheduled for one four days later.  I wasn't really worried, nor afraid.  I just felt an urgency to get things done.  Get my bookwork done, help Susan get ready for taxes.  An urgency things needed done now and not put off.  So I stayed up most of the night on Saturday, March 29th and caught up.

I was dreading the biopsy.  Remember when I had that one done about thirty years ago in Dr. Wallace's office.  He just shoved the needle deep in my breast and pulled it out without any numbing.  It hurt so bad.  I was picturing having it done again but on two lumps.  I kept telling myself that I had seven children, natural childbirth, and I could handle this.  It wasn't as bad as I had anticipated.  This time, the doctor numbed my breast.  There was some pain, but not like before.  The radiologist said everything looked normal but they would send it to the lab and get back with me in two or three days.  The next day I had a voicemail from my primary care doctor telling me to call him back on his cell phone.  Giving me his cell number, I knew this wasn't good.  One of the lumps was malignant.  I had only told Susan and Rainee about the biopsies.  Susan because she was going with me in case I needed a ride home, and Rainee because she and Mark were on my emergency call list.  Now however, I decided they all had the right to know what was going on with their mom, so I called them.

Monday night I pulled your flannel jacket from the closet and clutched it tight to me as I fell asleep.  I wanted you there with me.  You know I'm a tough old broad, but you also know that much of that toughness came from the fact of knowing you were there.

The surgeon's appointment was scheduled and I was told I have Triple Negative Breast Cancer.  It is just a name to me but with it I know there will be surgery to remove the lump and surrounding tissue.  A dye will be shot through me to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and if it has, those nodes will be removed at the same time.  Nothing more is known until the surgeon gets "in there" and see's what I'm really up against.  There will be chemo though, because it's Triple Negative.

"You know, Mom.  Dad and Daren bailed on you because neither of them would have been able to deal with your being sick," Rainee said as she was putting a rinse on my hair.

I stood brushing my hair yesterday morning, remembering how proud you were of my hair that hung to my knees a few years ago.  You loved my long hair, and I kept it long because you did.  Then, when our lives changed so dramatically in 2009 when you had your heart attack and we moved to Alaska, I decided since life was changing, so would I, so I had my hair cut.  Since you died, though, I have been growing it back out; just because you loved it so.  It now hangs down between my shoulders and as I stood brushing it yesterday, knowing it would be falling out, I decided to be proactive.  After surgery, I will cut it off and give it to Locks of Love.  Before chemo starts, I will shave my head.  I don't want my hair laying all over the place as it falls out.  I called Susan and she and I went to Orem and I bought a wig.

"I don't think your dad could have dealt with my losing all my hair," I told Susan as we drove home.
"If Dad were here, Mom," she said, "it would be you taking care of him."

But I wish you were here honey.  I wish I could hear the rhythm of your breathing, smell the scent of Old Spice aftershave and feel your arms around me.  But since you're not, your flannel jacket will have to do.

I'm at one of those "bookmark" places in life honey.  Those places when you know the story line is about to change but you don't know what is going to happen.  I guess all I can do is keep reading.

I know you and Daren are with me and it gives me peace knowing you are.  It doesn't give me happiness... but peace.  Happiness would be your both being right here with me in the now.

Mary has been heavy on my mind the past couple of weeks.  Tell my sister how much I love her and tell her I wish she were here to give me one of her bear hugs.

Well, (I say after taking a deep breath and wiping the tears off my face), there are things that need doing, so I will get them done.

I love you Honey.  Tell our boy I love and miss him.  I will be expecting you both hovering around me over the next while.

I love you, longer than the 12th of Never.