Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Would the REAL Mom please step forward?

Confused? Me too! And you are not seeing things, so don't try to adjust your screen. This is what happens when you are slap happy and your family has been at the University of Michigan Cancer Center for seven hours. Yes, we were all there... all day yesterday. We checked in at 8:30 and left about 5:oo pm. Why? Well, that's a great question. I'll give you a very short answer (or we'd be here for another 7 hours.) I was encouraged by my surgical oncologist to seek a seek opinion for my treatment, and I did. With all the family in tow. By the time I saw my third doctor, and all five of us were stuffed into an extremely small examination room, we were loopy, tired, and just a little on edge. (ok, maybe I was the one on edge, they were all just tired from being up since 6:00 am) Jessica decided that she would be "Mom" and put on my stuff. Then it got passed to Rachel, Carly, and even Steve! The door was closed, but the laughter level was high, and I'm sure anyone passing by in the hallway wondered what the HECK was going on inside that room. I guess there isn't often wild uncontrollable laughter emanating from inside a breast cancer center examination room. Well, there's always time for a first, and this was apparently it. We phoned my sister in Dallas and she got into the act as well. (xoxo Aunt B!)
Laughter is the best medicine after all, and we needed a big dose!

The day at U of M went well, and the great news is that their opinion matched with my current course of treatment. I will be returning at the end of January however, after my third chemo treatment, and the next round of scans for another round of evaluations. For now, we hurry up and wait, and let the chemo do its job.

And yes, in case you haven't seen me recently, the hair is history. I was buzzed this past Friday, it just wouldn't wait for the girls to come home. That's ok though. I am more than my hair, and it will take more than a buzz cut to keep this (bald) chick down. You won't have to look very hard, you can still see the REAL ME shining through.


Friday, December 17, 2010

A visit from Santa Ryan!

My second chemo has come and gone, and so far so good! :) My post chemo meds were
changed slightly and maybe I can attribute these feelings to a "little less of this, and a little more of that."
I will go with the flow however, and just enjoy feeling mostly myself...which is a good thing! The hair however, is a different story. I will have to refer to the sentence above..."a little less of this" would be most accurate.

I was very kindly invited to have dinner last night with a student from my class this year, Ryan and his mother, Wendy. They asked me join them at Panera (only to happy to oblige) and they told me that they had some Christmas gifts for me! :) So I decided to take a shower before I left. It's not nice to show up for dinner with friends looking unkempt! Hindsight being twenty twenty, it was a bad bad idea...hair wise that is. (I did smell rather nice so that part was ok) However, by the end of the shower, I looked like a bird that is quite close to the END of molting. Take my word, it was not a good look (even for a bird) So off I went in search of a bandana, tied it on, hopped into the bug, and I was off!

I spotted Ryan right away! He was peering over a booth top watching the door for me. It was wonderful to see him and he rushed over to give me a huge hug! Wendy ordered our food and the gift giving frenzy began! :) Oh my, Oh my, Oh my is all I can say! The bag was about as big as Ryan, and he kept reaching in to pull out gifts! It was TRULY Christmas come early! One gift was more amazing and thoughtful than the next. The most amazing gift of all however, had to be the "Harry Potter" Snuggy! Being the TRUE H.P. fan that I am, they found this amazing gift and thought of me. It will be warm and FUN to wear up in camp chemo, and I'm sure to be the only H.P. Snuggy Wearing patient in the entire hospital!! We ate, talked about school, yesterday's holiday party in class, and in general, just had a WONDERFUL WONDERFUL visit. Wendy and Ryan, I cannot thank you enough for your kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring. You really truly made me feel special and I feel the same about you!

Now I'll fit right into the Gryffindor Common Room with Harry, Ron, and Hermione! :)


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Going...Going...But Not Gone...

yet. The time has come. My hair will not be with me much longer. But that's alright. We all knew it was going to happen sooner or later. My second visit to camp chemo will be in two hours, and after this visit it will really be adios. This past week my scalp has been very tender to the touch. Even water hitting it from the shower head has been uncomfortable. I also have to be extremely careful when I pull a shirt over my head because even if the material barely touches it, my head doesn't feel that great. In a way it will be a relief. It's actually been quite a pain to have hair everywhere. It's on my clothes, on the kitchen table, in the sink, and I've even pulled it out of my food. (At least I know it's mine...it's a different story when you find it on your plate as you're out dining in a nice restaurant! ewww) I'm just sorry to have to be bald again in the cold weather. It gets chilly up there with no covering! I'm open to suggestions for ways to keep the 'ol pool ball warm.

I am looking forward to this weekend. ALL three of my girls will be home! :) :) :) To say I'm excited, overjoyed, and beyond happiness, would be an understatement. Carly, you had better bring warm clothing! I'm afraid 6 months of living in L.A. in 80 degree weather might have dimmed your memory as to what a Michigan winter feels like. It is C O L D here! They have canceled schools for the second day in a row...so you KNOW it must be bad out there. My teacher friends are doing the happy dance and the students are rejoicing! Now there are only three school days left before the holiday break. Good Luck when they come back tomorrow! ;)

I also wanted to say thanks to some people that have contacted me and I have not yet gotten in touch with them. Your kindness and thoughtfulness has touched me deeply. You truly have no idea what it means to me to hear from you. I have had a difficult time dealing with this the second time around and I'm trying my best to cope. Peggy Lisac, I LOVE the pin you sent me, and your card touched my heart. You are a true friend and I want to thank you for just "being there." Leslie, I'm SO sorry that my dogs nearly attacked you through the window when you delivered your card. I'm not sure what I was doing, but since they bark at anything, I didn't rush to the door. I'm SO sorry that I didn't. Your card was beautiful, and I'm so very sorry for your recent losses. I WILL make an effort to walk three whole houses away so we can visit. Sue H. I told you that I'd return your call, and I didn't :( You are one of my oldest and dearest friends and just hearing your voice warmed my insides. Thanks for just being you. Cindy P. what can I say. You are always there, even when it's been awhile since we've talked. That is a true friend.

There are so many more of you out there, and just knowing that you're keeping me in your thoughts and prayers has boosted my spirits and keeps me going. I know that I still have quite a road to travel, but I can do it with your help.

Well, my chariot will be here soon to pick me up. Kathy, you are an angel to come out in this frigid frozen tundra to take me to camp chemo and to keep me company. If we had only KNOWN that this would be a snow day, we could have rounded up the "troops" and had a party at "camp!"


This is what happens when I comb my hair...

and this is what fell into the sink...

but for right now, I still look like me! (ok a tired me lol)


Back from Camp Chemo. I'm all "juiced up" and at this point feel fine. Everything went as planned...well, there was one small problem..there was a "malfunction" with the tubing that drips my cocktail into me, and let's just say that I was being showered upon. It was dripping onto the floor, onto me, and the nurse had to call for "back up" to help stop the flow of toxic chemicals. All in a days work for camp chemo nurses I guess.

I also wanted you to see the headband that my mother made for me. It arrived yesterday with a note that said, "This will look beautiful on a bald head." I agree! I did want you see it WITH hair before you see it without. It's the pic at the top of the post with me in the chair. I just love it! Thanks Mom! xoxo

I also wanted to give a huge XOXOOXO to Kathy for coming and taking me to chemo. It took us an hour and a half to get the hospital due to the bad weather. The trip normally takes 20 minutes. We stopped on the way home at Panera (where else lol) and had soup (what else do you eat on a freezing day!) She made chemo fun and the time just whizzed right by. She also helped me pick two new hats from the "hat basket!" They are always available to take and are made by volunteers. I picked one (the one on my head) and she picked another. We couldn't decide so I took BOTH! :)

Stay warm!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Oh where Oh where have you been?

Sorry I haven't really updated recently. I was having some "issues" with my swollen arm. Don't worry, I'm alright now, but it was a little scary. I left physical therapy on Monday (was that only 48 hours ago?) with great news! The therapy worked quickly and my arm below the elbow was normal! (The therapist took measurements each time I went) Above the elbow, only 2 cm (NOT inches) bigger, which was in the "range" of normal (easy to say when you already have a flabby upper arm) but I was being sent to the medical store to get fit for a compression sleeve. This was great news since the sleeve is like wearing support socks (not that I would know) but on your arm instead. I was thrilled...no more MUMMY WRAP during the day. I would have to still "wrap" at night to keep swelling away. OK I can handle this. Off I went to get measured on Tuesday. I left with the sleeve on my arm. I will now refer to it as the "arm girdle" because that's what it feels like. TIGHT. The good news is that from the wrist to the tip of my fingers, I was FREE and it felt good! :)

Fast forward to Tuesday evening. I was wearing the arm girdle and I feel asleep around 7:00. Early even for me, but I'll take the sleep when I can get it. I must have woken up in the middle of the night and pulled the arm girdle off because I don't remember doing it. I woke up in the morning and realized what I had done! I was supposed to mummy wrap my arm when I go to sleep! I looked at my arm and noticed it was just a bit swollen, so I wrapped it instead of using the girdle. (I'm supposed to wrap when I notice even a little swelling start because it will keep it in check) Well, later in the day, my arm REALLY hurt. A lot! I tried to ignore it, but it wasn't going away. I thought, "Joanne, you should unwrap and see what the problem is." So I did. I surprised you didn't hear my shocked gasp from wherever you are. I could not believe what I was looking at. There was an ENORMOUS swollen fluid filled lump by my elbow. I can't even begin to tell you how large it was. I was scared. I made an "emergency physical therapist" call to Marilyn and told her what the problem was. (who would think that there IS such a thing as a P.T. emergency?!!) She told me that I had wrapped my arm TOO tightly above and below the elbow (can you spell tourniquet boys and girls?) and there was no place for the fluid to go. Hence, it was all collecting in the elbow area! She told me that I had to do what SHE usually does, and physically move the fluid. Yeah, right. I tried, but it wasn't working for me. (I was also a "teeny" bit upset)

Steve came to the rescue and HE moved the fluid. I gave him instructions and he did his best. Which turned out to be alright. The lump started to go down after about 20 minutes and then I re-wrapped (not too tightly this time) and I went to bed. I was exhausted from the whole ordeal.
Thanks Steve.

I went to see Marilyn this morning. The lump had gone down almost all the way (thank goodness) and when she measured my arm, it was almost back to where it was on Monday. I wrapped my arm in front of her, and she helped me to see what I was doing wrong. I left happily NOT getting the feeling squeezed out of my arm.

I figured that since a few days had gone by, I should let you know that I'm alright. Especially now that it's all over. I know that I'm feeling better. I made Paula Deen's Gooey Butter Cake this afternoon. There's NOTHING that two sticks of butter can't fix! :)

(Yes, they taste as good as they look! Thanks Paula!)


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Good bye

The news last night of Elizabeth Edwards really hit me hard. Cancer knows no boundaries between faith, fame, wealth, or station in life. Another tragic and senseless loss from this devastating disease. Elizabeth, you were strong and brave and you showed dignity until the very end. You were a symbol of strength and resilience to all us battling the same fight.

Your family's loss is ours as well. You will be missed. May you finally be at peace now with your beloved son, Wade.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'm a proud mama!

My daughter Carly has a wonderful job. She works for Ellen. Yes, THE Ellen. I guess before I continue, I need to tell you that my oldest daughter, Jessica, works for Oprah. Yes, THE Oprah.
I know, I know, what are the chances that one mother has two daughters, each working for the biggest names in television today. I'll tell you...ONE BILLION to one, and I'm the ONE! :) And what about my youngest daughter, Rachel? (Because I'm so lucky to have three beautiful, talented, and smart daughters. HEY, the title of this entry is, "I'm a proud mama!") Rachel is only a junior in college, but she is embarking on the BEST (and most important) career of all. She is going to be a teacher...just like her mom! :) :) :) Only the bravest of the brave, those with nerves of steel, endless papers to grade and correct, and the sinking feeling of exhaustion at the end of the school day can even attempt to do this. You go Rach!

All three of my daughters have been a constant source of pride, joy, and happiness. And I've got to tell you, the older two keep me constantly amused by their jobs, along with the "unusual" stories they share with me on a regular basis. They are traveling in circles that the rest of us can only imagine. So, it is with pride, I present to you Carly's 15 seconds of fame on the Ellen show yesterday. (I knew it was going to happen, but I was SWORN to secrecy!) What mother wouldn't be proud of her daughter being one of twelve wives to a polygamist mormon? And she is pregnant to boot! My cup runneth over with joy. She is in the red dress with the bulging belly. Kind of hard to miss. Enjoy.

*Carly actually has 30 seconds of fame...watch for her AGAIN after the give-away (I fast forwarded through the gifts, sorry Ellen, Carly was more important to her mama) she and the other "sister wives" are dancing on stage with Ellen. Carly, a gal in your "condition" needs to be a little more careful when dancing! :)

Joanne (You may now call me Grandma)

Thinking of you

Elizabeth Edwards, you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


You will never believe who I ran into in the entry way of the medical building!!! It was SARA DIXON! OK, I realize that you don't know her, but she is ONE OF MY CURRENT STUDENTS!
I was leaving physical therapy (for my arm) and I was getting my jacket on (remember, mothers and teachers tell you to put them on when exiting a building) and my back was to the elevators.
I turned around to leave, and heard the most beautiful sound I've ever heard, "MRS. SHEIMAN?!"
(hard to believe that previously when I've heard my name in class for the one thousandth time that day, I silently beg for the world to be put on mute) I looked in the direction of the voice and Sara came running over to give me the biggest hug in the universe!! Boy did I need that hug Sara! Her mom, Renee, had brought her to the doctor for a checkup because she had not been feeling well. What are the chances that all of us would meet for that split second in the entry way at the exact same time?! Well, I can tell you that it was not chance, it was meant to be. It was the best medicine in the world. We hugged and chatted, and chatted and hugged. I don't think the smile ever left my face. Eventually it was time to go, and I suddenly remembered the pie! (Remember from yesterday?) The lemon pie was sitting in my car, and I had baked up (HA no pun intended...but a good one none the less) a crack pot scheme to deliver it to my friend, Sue, the school secretary in my building. Since I'm not allowed on school property when out on medical leave, this was going to be tricky to get it to her. I had decided to drive to school from therapy, park on the street next to the building's parking lot, and wait for some unsuspecting
person to park and head inside. I was going to call out to them, and beg them politely to transport my to Sue. Lucky for me, Renee and Sara happily volunteered to bring the pie themselves as they were headed back there anyway. It all worked out wonderfully in the end. But wouldn't it have been fun to hear about the mummy encased one armed woman, shouting quietly under her breath from a partially rolled down car window, "PSSSSSSSSSSSST could you get this lemon pie into the school?"


Bethany, It was also WONDERFUL to see your mom at Kroger!! I was soooo excited and I kept hugging her and telling her to pass the hugs onto you! :) :) I miss you too! I think we should plan a "visit!" My favorite place in the world is Panera...maybe we can get some hot chocolate and visit? What do you think. You have my email...ask your mom and we will make it happen. xoxo

(I wasn't kidding about the mummy arm either)

That smile NEVER left my face!

Add Image

Renee, don't worry about it being blurry, our smiles are shining through!

Thanks for taking the pics Renee..I hope your BIG term paper got finished!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lemon Pie

I see that I am behind "schedule." The computer says it is 5:36 AM but I have been awake for hours. My eyes popped open at the usual time (3:15) and it was time to get up. Too bad I can't work the night shift somewhere...I'd be raring to go after half a shift! My dogs think I'm insane, and cannot figure out why I'm taking them out to do their business in the middle of the dark, freezing, god forsaken night. It's been lightly snowing here in Michigan for two days now and it's also very slippery out there...note to get some salt. We do not want a repeat episode from two years ago. For those who don't know or can't remember (or possibly don't care haha too bad...when I get started with a story, you might as well just listen cause I'm going to tell it anyway) get this picture into your head: freezing Michigan day in January (I think...see, even I don't remember) dogs needed to do their business (what else is new?) and p.j. clad(red scottie dogs of course...4 sizes too big), chemo infused bald as a bowling ball little 'ol me, trots outside wearing slippers and no jacket (smart right? didn't your mother AND your teacher always tell you to put a coat on when you go outside. Sorry, I'm both) into the swirling white accumulating drifts and say, "OH MY GOD FRANKIE (little white canine monster) would you JUST PEE ALREADY!!! And while I'm waiting for the snow to get it's blessed yellow due rewards...I feel a little woozy (yes, that's a word) and the next thing I know, I'm DOWN FOR THE COUNT! Passed out cold in the snow in my scottie dogs! (Glad I'm not a lingerie type of gal) I wake up with my face in the snow and the dogs standing over me looking stupid. They are wondering if they can please go inside now? I haul myself up, realize there is blood dripping down the back of my right hand. Apparently I made a futile effort to grab a small tree for support (obviously it didn't work) on my way down to the frozen tundra. It looks worse than it is and we make it safely back inside. Now, if that story doesn't make you want to run out and buy some rock salt for the patio, I'm not quite sure what would do it. Maybe the mental picture of a frozen bald headed woman in old baggy red flannel scottie dog pajamas prostrate on the ground (Room 106...you know I love big words...look it up!) might work for you.

Oh yeah...the lemon pie. I made one at 3:15 in the morning. What else would one do at that hour?

(Sue B. this one is for you...don't worry, I kept the one with the missing slice!) *If anyone out there can help me line up pics...just step forward tin man.


P.S. Lorriane, Pat, Kathy, and Cindy P. I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


"May you find serenity and tranquility in a world you may not always understand. May the pain, that you might know, and the conflict that you experience, give you the strength to walk through life facing each new situation with courage and optimism. Always know that there are those whose love and understanding will always be there, even when you feel most alone. May a kind word, a reassuring touch, and a warm smile be yours every day of your life, and may you give these gifts as well as receive them. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending."

My love for my daughters, my sister, and my mother are unconditional and never ending. They are the reason that my heart beats. Together, there is nothing that we can't achieve, and I will move heaven and earth to make it happen.

Yesterday, a random meeting with a kind stranger made me feel special. He spoke to me like I was a friend and took the time to listen. This chance encounter may seem insignificant, but to me, it meant the world because my world has been turned upside down and nothing is what it's supposed to be. Words can hurt deeper than a knife, but they also have the power to heal. Thank you "Dave" for making me smile.

Monday, November 29, 2010

3:00 A.M. and a turkey sandwich

According to my computer, it's now 7:18 a.m. but what's a few hours among friends? It's been a restless few days, and I was in my kitchen at 3:00 a.m. eating a Thanksgiving sandwich. A girl has to keep up her strength, regardless of the hour! ;) I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and time was well spent time eating delicious things and visiting with loved ones.

The chemo wave (alright, more like a tsunami) hit on Friday, three days after receiving it. I was down for the count. I don't think I ventured out of my chair for the next 24 hours. Luckily for me, my daughter Rachel was home from college and she hovered lovingly nearby and did her best to make me comfortable. I won't lie, I just plain old felt miserable. When my mother (in NJ) and sister (in Dallas) called to check in with me, I could hear the concern in their voices. "You don't sound very good," they managed to say. Yup, I can agree with that. I'll just sit here and continue watching the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives marathon on the Food Network. (I had no idea there were so many types of omelettes around the country and most are big enough to feed a family of ten.)

By Saturday I summoned the strength to venture out of the house with Rachel. (I was afraid that my tv chair was forming around my rear end and would never release me) We dressed and headed to the local JC Penny (I know...contain your excitement) and did a bit of shopping.
I mostly sat on the bench in the dressing room and put things on hangers, but it's a start. It did actually feel good to get up and get out of the house for a bit.

Sunday dawned, but it's hard to tell when you keep waking up every hour or so through the night. I sleep when I can, and eat what I can. Which brings us back to this morning at 3:00 a.m.
I wandered upstairs fairly early in the evening, and by the time I woke up at 3 o'clock, I was starving! Food was the only thing I could think of, so I got up, took the dogs outside, and then I made a sandwich. I felt better and went immediately back to bed.

Thank goodnesss that turkey makes you sleepy after you eat it. It might become my antidote to sleepless nights.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Return to camp

(I love my long hair Ajah! xox Hope it looks like this someday!)

As a past summer camper, I can tell you how much you look forward to returning to your second season at camp. You already know the kids, you know the activities, and above all, you know you're going to have FUN! Well, it was kind of sort of like that, but you can get the "fun" part right out of your head. Even I (the eternal half glass full gal) could never, in any stretch of the imagination, refer to chemotherapy as fun. (If there's someone out there that can refute this claim...step forward tin man!) The best parts of yesterday were exactly the same as a return to summer camp. I knew all of the campers (nurses and office staff) and they did greet me with big hugs, words of encouragement (always welcome), and smiles on their faces. They told me in no uncertain terms, "We've done this once, and we're just going to do it again!" "OK" I thought. Let's get this show on the road.

For support, Rachel and Steve went with me. You are technically allowed only one support member in the chemo room with you, but as I was one of the first "guests" of the day, there were empty seats. Eventually as the room filled up (sadly, there are a lot of sick people) Steve moved to the office waiting room. Usually a chemo patient has a port placed under their skin and the infusion lines are just attached to the port. Ports allow easy access to draw blood as well as infuse medicine. But I don't have one! Remember, I was supposed to be finished with all of this and they took it out when I had my surgery one year ago. Ah well, we're going to improvise and see how long it works. I may or may not have to have to port replaced. For now, I will just get the 'ol needle in the arm trick each time I go. This is what it looks like.

Yes, that's me...you can tell by the trio of bracelets that ARE surgically attached to my body. I
will admit, they kind of "soften" the look. Chemo with STYLE! lolol (it's ok to laugh!)

After they've attached everything, the tubes are run to the infusion stand, where your special little cocktail is waiting to be sent directly to you! (No, this is not like when my school staff has special meetings after school, and special little cocktails are sent directly to our table) Then you sit patiently and wait. Tick Tick Tick You wait. Tick Tick Tick. Still waiting. (Students in room 106...remember how I teach you EVERY day that WAITING IS A SKILL THAT YOU NEED IN LIFE? Well, I wasn't kidding!!!) While you are waiting, you can chat with loved ones (thanks Rach and Steve) then you can watch TV. I was watching my favorite show, "ELLEN" and I also chose to be wear my ELLEN shirt, because anything to do with ELLEN puts a smile on my face.
And if one has to go to chemo (for the second time), then one REALLY wants to have something to make them smile., and Ellen is guaranteed to make that happen. Three hours passed by like that (clicking my fingers but you can't hear) OK not really, but it sounded good! My visit this time lasted from 9:00-12:00.


We left for home, but not without a quick stop at COSTCO! Hey, a girl's gotta keep her strength up, and it really was quick, I just needed my Costco bread! Then it was home to my chair, where I spent the rest of the day dozing on and off. I was really tired, but due to the fact that I haven't been sleeping very well lately. I have had a slight swelling issue (slight being an understatement)
with my left arm the last few weeks due to lymphedema (feel free to google..too much info to post here) and it has been painful and keeps sleep away! My doctors feel that my new chemo is going to help with this swelling, and I am happy to say that last night I slept uninterrupted for TEN HOURS!!! I feel soooo much better today! Only difficulties I had during the day were stomach aches that came and went, but one can expect that when one has toxic crap running through their system, right?!

Today I ate some toast with my meds (don't take on an empty stomach... ok I won't, thank you very much for telling me) and now I talking with all of you (which always makes me feel better) and later today I'm going to bake (NOOOO! me? bake? you know I must be feeling alright!) some desserts for Thanksgiving...which is TOMORROW! oh my goodness...time to go...all of you must have some shopping, or turkey cleaning, or chestnuts to roast (do people still do that?)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL OF YOU!! I am thankful that I have all of YOU in my life.


Thought I'd share some amazing cards made by my class. I love you Room 106! As well as cards that I've received from all of you! Thanks for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers.

Each student made a square for me and the card was pieced together like a quilt. They obviously know me
well! (I also have NO idea why this is underlined and
couldn't figure out how to get rid of it...if YOU know me well you will be chuckling right now)

Cards sent to me (?what no underline? lol) as well
as a VERY cute PINK bucket sent from Carly and
"Aunt" ELLEN (lol)

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's official now

I went to my classroom today and saw my students to tell them the news. It's the first time that I've been back, and I was literally welcomed with open arms! I popped into the room right after they had returned from recess. Once they saw me walk into the room there was a mad dash and I had 25 kiddos hugging me from all directions. It was wonderful to see them and I could tell that the feeling was mutual. I was so worried about how to tell them (remember, I've done this before) but they were great! They took the news in stride and had tons of questions, which I answered the best that I could. Then they promptly asked if I'd been in class on Monday! So much for listening skills!

It was equally wonderful to see my school "family" and even harder to leave at the end of the day. The hugs that you gave me said it all. I can't begin to express my thanks to all of you for the love and support that you've shown me. With you behind me, I can (and will ) move mountains.

Mary and Janice...special hugs to both of you for keeping the home fires burning!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

You are never going to believe this....

This is a blog that I never thought that I would write. Today is Thursday, November 18, 2010 and my breast cancer has returned. The past week has been a whirlwind of tests and doctor visits, and it was not until yesterday at approximately 3:00 PM that my immediate future was revealed.

Take a few deep breaths (I've had to take many) and I'll try my best to explain what has happened. Friday, August 20 was a VERY exciting day. It was my last Herceptin treatment.(refresher-herceptin is the year long chemo infusion that I was receiving once every three weeks after my chemo, bi lateral mastectomy, and radiation) The nurses blew the farewell bubbles (it is a right of passage when you complete your treatment) and I was in a big rush to leave. Finally, I could put this all behind me! The nurses burst my bubble (literally and figuratively) when they informed me that I would still needed to "check in" and my first post treatment check-in would be October 11. Okay, sounds great, and I rushed out of camp chemo with a huge smile on my face. School was starting after Labor Day and I was had lots to do! I closed the door on my illness and readied myself for the onslaught that a new school year always brings.

The next six weeks passed in a frenzied blur. New students, new staff, and a brand new year of fifth grade! I barely thought of the word cancer anymore. A week or two before my October 11 checkup, I noticed an unusual hardness in my left breast and actually pointed it out to some of my friends at work. I even made them feel it, just to reinforce to myself that I was not making it up. I truly didn't think too much about it, and just figured that I would mention it to my physician assistant, Suzanne at the checkup. About this time I also started to notice a slight swelling in my left forearm, and immediately thought that lymphedema had struck. (this is a very common side effect for women that have had lymph nodes removed and were given radiation.The lymph fluid does not flow through your limbs due to the removal of the nodes and therefore remains in your limb causing the swelling) Most breast cancer patients that have had my course of treatment are constantly on the lookout for this. It can happen at any time, even years after inititial treatment.

Fast forward to October 11. (7 short weeks later) I waltz into the checkup smiling from my head to my toe. I was feeling pretty darn good! During the checkup I mention to Suzanne that I have a weird hard spot, could she please look at it, and while you're at it, my arm seems to have swollen a bit too. She seems puzzled by the hard area and tells me that I should have my plastic surgeon take a peek. We figured it was somehow implant related. And the swelling, yeah, probably lymphedema. Keep it elevated and possibly I would require some physical therapy to manage the swelling. (no known cure for lymphedema) Plastic surgeon? Okay, I can handle that.
I drove directly from camp chemo across the street to Dr. Ali's office and "firmly" asked to see him right then. I decided that I would wait as long as necessary, but I was not leaving until he saw me. Luckily, he saw me right away. He examined the hard area, and was the first to mention the word "fatnecrosis" to me. What the heck is that? (see, you DO learn something every day!) He informed me that this was an extremely common side effect with women that have had B.C.
(What? ANOTHER ONE??) and radiation. The scar tissue and fat form a rock hard area which feels exactly like what I am experiencing. (Ok, that doesn't sound too bad) He told me to take motrin 3 times a day and put a warm compress on the area, and come back in one week. I also mention the swelling in my arm is starting to hurt.

I followed his directions to the letter, but sadly when I checked back in with him, I told him that nothing had changed. He re-examined me, and he had a very puzzled look on his face. I could tell right away that he was concerned. I finally asked what I had been afraid to. "Is this normal?"
"No." he told me. The panic started here. He told me that he was sending me for an ultra sound and this would determine what it was. GREAT IDEA I whole-heartedly agreed. He also wanted me to make an appointment to see Dr. Kirby (my surgical oncologist...more panic setting in) Off to the ultra sound a few days later. I explain to the technician why I am there, and she performs the test. Can you see anything?? Can you tell what the lump is?? Her words comforted me when she said, "It does not have the characteristics of cancer. But let's have the radiologist read the results before you leave. I know you are worried. (you have NO idea) She comes back and tells me the good news...he confirmed what she had told me. Good news! On to Dr. Kirby.

While I'm waiting for my appointment with Dr. Kirby, I receive a letter from the hospital giving me the results from the ultra sound. The letter stated that the mass was, "Benign, but undetermined." Undetermined?? No, not acceptable. I will talk to Dr. Kirby about this.

October 26th I am in Dr. Kirby's office. I ask her about the "undetermined" area from the ultrasound and let her know that I'm not comfortable with that word. I listen to her tell me all about fatnecrosis. Yup sounds right to me. Then she informs me that to be sure, we will need to biopsy the area. Biopsy? Alright, she's done that before... right here in the office. She tells me that this is the only way to know 100% what the hardness is. Sounds like a plan...let's get this done. I don't find out for a few days that this procedure has to be done surgically in the O.R. (silly me, thinking I'd lie down on the chair in her office) due to my implants. This means a few more days off from school, but it will be fine. (Remember, during all of this I am responsible for a living breathing class of fifth graders which are challenging my limits as a teacher each and every day)
Once again, I mention that my ever swelling arm is really bothering me now. She reassures me that we need to take one thing at a time and we will deal with the arm after the biopsy.

Thursday, November 4th. Biopsy day. My husband takes off work and drives me to the hospital. I have a very eerie deja vu. I do not like being wheeled into an O.R. All those people in surgical garb, and you can't see their faces. It's creepy and it's cold in there. I secretly hope that they will quickly put me "under." I wake up in recovering feeling a little out of it. Apparently I called my sister (the now famous Melissa that rescued me when I feinted in the shower after my first surgery for those that have read my blog before.) and she told me that I would not remember calling her...which of course I do not! lol Now I just hurry up and wait for the results.

5:30 PM Monday, November 8th. I go and pick up my VW bug (which has been in the repair shop for two weeks getting a new ENGINE. Don't ask...that's an entirely different story) and happily drive home. (Happy because I've been bumming rides for two weeks) I get home to find FIVE messages on my answering machine. They are all pretty lame except the last one. It's from
Dr. Kirby. Dr. Kirby?? It's now 5:45 in the evening and she left the message just a few minutes before I got home. The message says, "Please call me as soon as you get this message. Even though it's after hours, and I'm at the hospital, please have the answering service page me." 5:45? Call her? Page her at the hospital? Oh no...there is not a doctor alive that tells you to do this if they have GOOD NEWS to share with you. I make the call. I am standing in my kitchen, alone, with my dogs. I still have my work clothes and jacket on. Dr. Kirby answers the page and then asks me if I'm at school or at home. Home. My world falls apart with the news. It is back.

Lets skip forward past the hysteria (yes it happened) and where she told me to make an appointment to see my oncologist the next day. I'm in his office half listening, half not even believing what I'm hearing. I hear, "round of scans" and try to focus. They are pushing me through STAT and will need CT, bone, and MRI scans which have been scheduled for the next two days. I show up and do what they tell me. I have been injected twice with radio active crap and chugged two bottles of barium (hmmm I guess the skill of "chugging" has finally come in handy!) I now hurry up and wait again. I'm told to call Suzanne on Friday for the results.
Needless to say, not much sleep occurred during those days.

Friday November 12th I continuously check my phone. I receive an odd message from the hospital NOT Suzanne. The cryptic message says they are calling me to schedule my scan on Monday. What scan? Monday? I give them a call and I am informed that I am having a PET scan on Monday evening at 9:00 PM. Seriously? Alrighty but I'm not even sure why I'm having it (let alone at that ungodly hour) and give them the necessary information. Sometime later in the day I finally hear from Suzanne. She tells me that 99% of the scans are good news! My bone scan is clear and the brain scan is also clear (I guess that was not the time to make a joke about the fact that my brain in most decidedly not normal) but the CT scan showed a "speck" (her words) on my lung, which means I need the PET scan to find out what it is. She's sorry I heard it from the hospital before I heard it from her (yeah, me too) and I should probably move my new round of doctor appointments from Tuesday, Nov. 16th, to Wednesday the 17th. This way "they" will have all of the results and can formulate my "plan of action." Hurry up and wait some more.

2:15 Wednesday, November 17. I am sitting with my husband, Dr. Krishnan (oncologist), Suzanne (P.A.), and Andrea (breast cancer patient advocate) in the examining room. My entire family, plus dear school family and friends are waiting with their cell phones to hear the news.
The news is good, well, as good as one with cancer in their body (again) can hear. It is being called a "local recurrence" and it is not present anywhere else in my body! (HUGE HUGE HUGE
sigh of relief) We do not know why it has come back, but it is here and we need to get RID OF IT
(again) ohhh and remember that swelling in my arm???!!! Apparently it's not lymphedema.
The tumor (what an UGLY word...I will from this point on refer to it as the GROWTH) is pressing against my lymph nodes (the ones I have left anyway) and it is compressing them and not allowing fluid to pass out of my arm..hence the swelling!!! I need to start chemo this TUESDAY at 9:00 AM. (I asked to start sooner, but my meds will not be there until Tuesday) and they believe that once the chemo shrinks the growth a bit, the lymph nodes will spring back into action and my swelling will go down. (my arm is really really uncomfortable) I will have three rounds of chemo, spaced three weeks apart (last time they were two weeks apart) and after the third treatment, I will get scanned to see how the growth is responding. Depending on the findings at that point, I will either have surgery to remove the growth (which hopefully will be smaller at that point) or I will continue on chemo awhile longer.

We are going to take this one step at a time. It's not like I haven't been down this road before. Oh yeah...I'm losing my hair again. Oh well...it's only hair and we already know how I look without it, so no biggy this time. Break out the knitted hats (again)

I will update this blog regularly. It seems to really help me to write it down, which in turn seems to sort everything out for me. I'm sure you have a million questions. I know I do. I just know how important all of you are to me, and I CANNOT do this alone. I need all of you to help me fight this again...because FIGHT I'M GOING TO DO! For goodness sakes, I need to a long long life, especially long enough to see one of my daughters with a BOYFRIEND (not even thinking husband!) so....let's get this done!!!!


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Alive and kicking (cancer's butt )

Yes, I AM alive and well! It came as quite a shock to me a few days ago when my sis (yes, the famous Melissa from the fainting bathtub incident this past summer) said, "Joanne, you had better update your blog! I'm getting emails from people that are wondering if you are "still among us!" WHAT!!! She thought it was quite humorous that this thought had never crossed my mind! I am SO sorry if my absence led you to think the unthinkable! I am extremely sorry that anyone has had to worry about me. So let's set the record straight...I am still here and plan to be for a LONG LONG TIME!

I guess after my radiation finished, and I returned to work, I just figured all of you would find better things to read about online and I got lax in updating my blog. I will continue to check in and let you know how things are going from now on.

Actually, I have had some proverbial bumps in the road since I last spoke to all of you, but all's well now. Things after radiation returned to normal (wait...is there such a thing as normal even without cancer?) and and the days settled into a routine. Teach fifth grade during the week, collapse from exhaustion on weekends. (From dealing with pre-adolescents every day...not cancer!) I was still receiving my herceptin infusion every three weeks at camp chemo and things were going great. I even started to get some length to my hair and it started to curl. I mean REALLY curl...and this was very exciting to someone that has had stick straight hair their entire life! I had some routine doctor appointments and scans in Decemberand did receive the BEST NEWS EVER....my CAT scan and bone scan were negative!!! NO CANCER found! Hip Hip Hooray! Wait, don't cheer too loudly yet...my CAT scan showed something "suspicious" on my thyroid. Oh no...here we go again. My THYROID??!! You've GOT to be kidding. Just when I was practicing the words, "no more cancer" I started to worry again. I did have good cause. You see, my infamous sister, Melissa, had thyroid cancer many years ago. I was directed to a brand new doctor. (gee, didn't have enough I guess) Fast forward...after an examination, in which he did feel something on my thyroid, he decided to do a biopsy. I waited an agonizing week for the results, and when I read the words, "NO CANCER DETECTED," I DID jump for joy!

The other small bump that I'm dealing with now is that I had to be taken off my herceptin infusion for 12 weeks. Along with the CAT and Bone scan in December, I also received a routine heart scan, (a side effect of herceptin is that it can weaken your heart. YIKES! I think I need that organ!) and the heart scan showed a fairly dramatic decrease in my heart function. Therefore, they needed to take me off the infusion in the hopes that when I have the next heart scan (in about two weeks) my heart function will be back up to where it should be. That will mean herceptin is the cause, and a different dose will be prescribed, and it will be back to camp chemo for me!

I've also seen my plastic surgeon since I last posted. I was hoping that my final surgery to get these &^%$# chest "expanders" out of my body would occur sometime this spring, but no go.
He said it will be this summer. I am bummed to say the least.

Well, hopefully I have answered any and all questions. I'd love to hear from you...whoever is still out there! I will leave you with a picture of my new and improved self...courtesy of one of my students. It's priceless! (I especially love my new "do")