Eat, Work, Chemo

Knock on wood…

I’ve managed to stay out of the hospital for over two weeks now.

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Let’s let that one sink in for a minute.

I’m grateful for every second that I can live my life on the outside. We take slow, incremental steps to reestablish a sense of normalcy. It’s not easy…but it’s lightyears better than where I was just weeks ago.

1.) Going back to work

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Although have been working remotely throughout medical leave on projects, reports, etc. I’ve been transitioning back to the office little by little since mid-July. Part in person/part telecommuting. The nature of summer in undergraduate advising (after orientation of course) involves some sparse phone appointments but mostly administrative work to gear up for the next academic year. Degree audits to make sure your rising seniors are on track for graduation (and to light a small forest fire under the ones that aren’t), adjusting freshmen schedules to account for their AP/transfer credits, finalizing study abroad course contracts, prerequisite reports, and general ‘i’ dotting and ‘t’ crossing. It’s pretty low-key stuff but keeps me busy and isn’t terribly draining. That said, my return is well timed.

The fall semester is full on. Two straight weeks of walk-in’s during the add/drop period, classroom presentations and workshops, probation meetings, study abroad advising, registration advising, collaboration with other departments on projects/events and “other duties as assigned”. Student contact is high and this is where more of the student development piece (my favorite piece) comes in. It can be intense, but it’s truly the part I love the most.

Part of living with chronic illness is having to make tough choices about your limitations. As someone who fiercely cares about the work I do, I don’t like “scaling back” or not taking advantage of opportunities to grow in my role. One tough choice came recently when I decided to take a step back from a teaching opportunity in the fall. To be clear, no one at work made me feel as if I had to do this. I’ve gotten nothing but support to take on this additional role. I just knew that in light of this summer from hell, I didn’t want to put my students or the rest of the staff in a tough position if these secondary health issues were to persist. It’s just not fair to anyone.

For now I’m going to keep focusing on my advising role, partnership with the Honors Program, and advising the Colleges Against Cancer club. That keeps me plenty busy.

2.) Om nom noms (…eating)

Reteaching your body anything that is supposed to come naturally is nothing but frustrating. When you’re a baby learning how to eat solids you aren’t worried about the capacity of your stomach or if/how certain foods will digest. Babies eat, poop, occasionally throw up, and move on quickly into hysterical laughter when someone blows a raspberry on their belly.

When I say relearning how to eat, in this case, I don’t mean relearning how to chew or swallow. I’m referring to my atrophied stomach slowly growing to increase food intake and the intestines absorbing nutrients and passing the food without obstruction. It is easy to get in your own head and stress yourself out. There is a sense of urgency to gain weight because I’m super underweight but you also walk a fine line of taking in calories but not so much that you exceed the (very small) capacity of the stomach.

I have been off of TPN for just over a week now and luckily, I didn’t lose weight. I thought that my dietitian would be concerned that I didn’t gain this week because she really hammered home the importance of a 1400 calorie per day diet. Knowing that I didn’t even come remotely close to 1400 calories per day or even 1000 for that matter, I put myself in a tizzy and shed some involuntary tears when she asked how the week went. She was incredibly encouraging and reminded me that this is a process and that I have a lot to be proud of. Getting off of TPN and not losing more weight, actually digesting the food I can take in, eating at a restaurant, are all victories. I felt a huge weight lifted after that conversation.

So things I’ve mostly been taking in that have agreed with me: Stonyfield whole milk baby yogurt, blended fruit/vegetable pouches (yes also for babies), smoothies, cottage cheese, rice cereals, milk (cow or coconut), soft fruits without skin or seeds, very soft cooked vegetables without skin or seeds, bagels, grilled chicken, rice, noodle dishes (lo mein, pad thai), hummus, pita chips, soups, ice cream…

Oh and I was able to eat half of an insanely good reuben (sans saurkraut) the other day. I was in love and proud of myself for keeping it down.

I am fortunate to have a damn good cook in the house so it’s nice to enjoy Cory’s creations as tolerated in small portions. This week I actually ate a small helping of braised short ribs, crispy polenta, and mushrooms:

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Not bad for an architectural lighting salesman, eh?

I’m sure most people could house the above meal in two bites but that’s just about how much my stomach can take right now. It was perfect. I look forward to my stomach normalizing even more to take advantage of Cory’s natural culinary talents.

3.) Getting rid of the PICC

The PICC line was supposed to come out yesterday and I was supposed to have the new port placed this coming Tuesday BUT a scheduling miscommunication has pushed both back. I won’t have the port placed until August 15th which means I need the PICC for another week to receive chemo.

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I was disappointed but in the grand scheme of things, living with a PICC line for one more week is nothing in comparison to anything else I’ve had to do this summer.


So that’s it for now. I have a big weekend lined up with both Cory’s parents and my parents coming to visit. Should be a lot of fun to get everyone together 🙂 It’ll be good to see family after having a slightly emotionally challenging week.

Perhaps next week will turn around as flawlessly as Meyhem Lauren.

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Cautiously Optimistic

Chemocation, oh sweet chemocation. You sure have been good to me.

Since holding the Taxol my hands have returned to their original size. My appetite is much improved and the consistent nausea is all but gone.

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I am grateful for this break to rebuild my body as it has been taken a slow beating over time.

Well folks, let the good times roll because we have decided to continue to hold Taxol and only pursue Avastin for the foreseeable future. I believe I touched on this a few weeks back when I mentioned that we would do a CT scan and “re-evaluate” come summertime.

Ultimately it seemed silly to go back on Taxol for one cycle knowing we may hold it again shortly after. So here is the new plan-

  • Avastin (the antibody) infusion once every three weeks
  • Check up with the oncologist every six weeks
  • CT Scan on May 13th

If the scan shows improvement or at least no new disease, we can stick with this plan. Otherwise, I have the option to go back on Taxol. In any case, there is really no harm in just seeing if Avastin could be enough to keep me well.

One might be asking, “if Taxol has been working, why would you voluntarily drop it?”

My answer lies in faith and trust. I have faith that Avastin (alongside nourishing food/exercise/holistic practices) could be enough to give me the quality of life we have been striving for and slowly achieving after all of this time. I have trust that should this plan reach a point where is must change, we have safety nets in place. As Mom so perfectly stated today, it is perfectly okay to be cautiously optimistic.

So with that, let’s get excited for what is to come. Hopefully improved health, a new home, and a fresh chapter.

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Cancer as chronic

Recently I feel as if I have been on an upswing. Perhaps I can attribute this to being back at work, going back to the gym (slowly), and socializing per usual. I have really enjoyed the way I have felt, both emotionally and physically.

Last year I wrote about a mental state that I fondly refer to as “cancer purgatory”. Cancer purgatory is when you’ve been treated but you’re not totally sure if you have no evidence of disease. Cancer purgatory haunted me last year. I hated the uncertainty of it. I despised the “living between the lines” as my mother so perfectly phrased it. I was not in the wrong for feeling that way. In fact, I am likely in the majority of cancer crushers that just want to do what they need to do and put it all behind them. It’s easier to compartmentalize in your head if it is black and white, cancer or no cancer.

Since having a recurrence my perspective about what this all means for my life is a lot different. Both Dr. Robison and Dr. Dizon have made me feel secure in the fact that medical science is in my favor. Just yesterday I went in to W&I for a check up and Dr. Robison told me that there is a MEK inhibitor trial starting next month that the most current literature finds to be quite promising. That didn’t exist a year ago. Basically I know that if this disease continues to “be a nuisance” (as Dr. Dizon put it) we will have more and more tools to fight it as the months and years go on should we need them (for the record, I do not need this trial at this time). I am in a place emotionally where I think about cancer on a regular basis but how I regard it is different. I feel that I am able to stay more present and can buy into the notion that this is a chronic and manageable disease instead of the Loch Ness Monster of medical conditions.

Right now I don’t know if there is evidence of disease or not. Regardless of the answer, it will not change how I continue to operate. Cancer has a funny way of scaring you and empowering you at the same time. As of this moment, it is fueling a lot of positive opportunities. I’ll take it.

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