Mandi Singing

Here's a video of my daughter, Mandi, singing Saturday night at the Snohomish High School talent show.  I am so proud of my girl!  Her biggest idol right now is Lady Gaga so she sang "You and I".  I think Miss Gaga would be proud of this "Little Monster" (that's the pet name she has for her fans).  Enjoy the show!


Let's Get Serious For A Moment

I didn't realize it's been almost a week since I'd posted anything.  No news is good news in my world! 

I've been feeling well.  Well enough in fact to attend Snohomish Boot Camp twice (I've got the sore hamstrings to prove it-thank you Peri-Lyn!).  Other than the residual disgusting taste in my mouth, all is very well.

So, let's talk about death.  I'm not morbid or fascinated by the whole thing, but I would be a liar if I told you it wasn't on my mind more than a few times these past couple of months.  This is not going to be about religion and the after life either (you and I can discuss that privately at some point if you'd like), I'm simply talking about the actual moment of death.

I remember when I was a little girl being told a story about the death of my great-grandmother and namesake, Libby.  My grandma and great aunt swore that just before her death, she sat up in her chair and said the words "hi mama" then she died.  The same great aunt told the story of my own grandmother's death in which a couple of days before she had a massive stroke, she saw a little dog in her house that kept wanting her to follow it.  She believed that little dog was "coming to take her away".  She wasn't frightened, comforted in fact.  Both stories certainly make me feel that at the end of their lives they were in some small way at peace. 

So how does this relate to me?  Well, Jeff and I saw the movie The Grey last night and  I LOVED it.  Jeff liked it too but the annoying woman sitting next to him ruined his comfort so he didn't have quite the same experience.  Anyway, I don't want to spoil anything for you, but the way they portrayed death in the movie was beautiful.  I was a blubbering fool because, shall we say, it hit home.  At one point Liam Neeson (phenomenal in this role) tells a man he is dying and not to be afraid.  He asks him "who is it that you love?" and after the man responds he says "let them take you there".  The whole movie I kept thinking; I hope that's how it is. 

I know it will be a great many years until I'm faced with that moment myself.  I hope when my time comes that it is my baby girl at her sweetest self, or my wonderfully loving husband holding my hand, or perhaps someone who has gone before like my grandparents that come to walk me through. 

I hope I haven't bummed anybody out...sorry if I did.  The reality is we are all going to die and it's a scary prospect, especially for someone living on the edge of it.  I, for one, feel a little better thinking the people I love most-alive or dead-will be with me when it happens. 

Just to lighten the mood...did you see the new
Honey Badger Pistaccio commercial? Love it!!!!


The Top Ten Reasons Cancer Is Awesome

No, I have not gone insane from the poison pumping through my veins.  Like every cloud there is a silver lining, and a cancer diagnosis is no exception.

10.  Priorities tend to become very clear.  When you truly are faced with the fact that your world can be changed in the blink of an eye, it certainly changes the way you look at things.  For the time being a sink full of dirty dishes will not send me into a fit of rage.  

9.  People like to feed cancer patients.  I have had the most delicious lasagna, enchiladas, chicken, cookies, cakes, brownies, and much more.  Thank you!  My future boot camp self also thanks you for the additional weight to lose. 

8.  Doctors tell you NOT to lose weight.  I have never once been told not to lose weight until I started chemo.  When I was up some weight at my last appointment, I almost got a high five from the nurse.  I think I can oblige this command from my doc.

7.  Sleeping as much as you want is allowed.  I like this one because I am a napper by design.  I love to curl up in the middle of the day and snooze for an hour.  I love being able to do it without the nagging guilt that I should be doing something productive.  Although I guess regenerating cells and fighting infection could be considered productive so it's a win/win for me!

6.  I have an excuse to wear pink every day of my life.  Who isn't happy wearing pink? 

5.  I don't have to blow dry or curl my hair.  I do have "phantom hair syndrome" though.  Essentially it's the same thing as "phantom limb syndrome" (when people who've had a limb removed still feel the pain or an itch), but I find myself reaching up to brush my hair out of my face.  The worst is after showering.  I still reach up to wring out my hair and flip my head down and twist the towel around my head.  It really is a strange sensation.

4.  I get to cry and hug people without being thought of as a crazy person.  Shhh...don't tell anyone.  I'm still a little crazy.

3.   I have not shaved my legs or armpits in weeks.  Sorry if that grosses you out, but THANK YOU CHEMO from the bottom of this dark haired, bushy eyebrowed girl.

2.   Every day feels like a gift.  Every sunrise, sunset, rain storm, snow storm, clear sky, cloudy sky, sunny day, all of it-causes me to pause and say thank you and I will do my best not to take it for granted.

And the number one reason cancer is awesome is....

Feeling the love from everyone around me. 

I have learned first hand what an amazingly supportive and loving family I have.  I know there are people in my life that would jump in front of a train or run down a specialist without hesitation if it meant I would feel or be treated better.

I've realized too what a fantastic group of non-family people I have around me.  My employers, my friends, my boot camp peeps.  Thanks for rallying and keeping me moving along.

I have also been so lucky to reconnect with good friends that have been sort of "lost" along the way over the years, like my high school buddies.  It's a shame it took this kind of event to wake me up and get me reconnected.  I'm sad for the lost years I could have been surrounded by amazing people but grateful to have from this day forward.  Thanks girls!

Brenda, Suzanne, Diana, Emily
Suzanne, Me


CAUTION!! Whining Ahead!

Kenny and Tracy Larsen delivering our dinner
Major shout out to the wonderful Larsen girl's!  Kylie and Lily-who play for Jeff-made us the most wonderful enchiladas and brownies a couple of days ago.  I mean really-what great girls!  How many 13 year old's would take the time to make a nice meal for a family going through something they'd just gone through with their mom?  What good hearts you two have.  Thank you so much for thinking of us!  Jeff has an issue with Hostess products, so they threw in a box of Twinkies just because (I think Miss Collette Campbell may be responsible for those-thank you!)

Waaaaaaaaah.  I've been told I have one hour to complain, so here goes. 

I don't feel real well.  My stomach hurts and I have a HORRIBLE taste in my mouth.  Eating helps, but as soon as I swallow the food, I'm right back to square one.  Peppermint Trident works for a little while but doesn't get rid of it completely. 

My legs are achy and my nose is so dry it's driving me crazy.  Jeff is forcing me to watch "Dual Survival" for the ten millionth time and I am annoyed.  Thank goodness the snow is melting and I got out of the house today otherwise I wouldn't be able to guarantee the safety of my lovely family. 

I would like to go on vacation...somewhere warm would be nice.  I'm thinking I have a window of opportunity between my last round of chemo and when I start radiation four weeks later, so I may try to make a break for it (if they'll let me).  This time of years is always tough for me given our climate, but it's even worse now with this chemo nonsense. 

Ho hum...just one of those days.  Lest you think I don't know how lucky I am, I do.  So many have it SO much worse and handle it with such grace, who am I to complain?  I struggle with that myself, but IT IS WHAT IT IS.  This sucks for any one going through it.  It sucks just not feeling like yourself, whether it's cancer or a cold.  I know I'll feel better in a couple of days, but I'm starting to struggle with the idea that I'll have to do it all over again in a couple of weeks.  I can see how people get really down in the dumps over what a daunting task it is and I have so much empathy for them.  FYI, it's not always an issue of "attitude" and "getting over it".  I believe there is a real physiological component involved with your body fighting not only a disease, but fighting the medications that are supposed to make you better.  It's almost impossible to know if what you're feeling is a reaction to the meds or the illness itself.  You live constantly on the edge of being depressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, irritable, get where I'm going with this.  Such a pain in the butt! 

Sooooooooooo....that is my rant for the moment.  Now Jeff has switched from "Dual Survival" to MMA fighting.  Oh brother.  I suppose I could pull the cancer card and switch to "Project Runway" or "Dance Moms".  I'm thinking he'd last less than one minute with either of those shows, so maybe I'll just take some drugs, read my book, and go to bed.  Aaaaahhh...everything is always better in the morning.


Half Way Baby!

My cat Boo-just because he's so cute!

Can I get an amen?  AMEN! 

I got a call yesterday from Dr. Jiang letting me know that because of the holiday they couldn't get formal approval from my insurance company to switch medications from Taxotere to Taxol, so the plan was for me to assume that we'd get approval, but just in case, he wanted me to prepare to "re-challenge" the Taxotere drug.  What that means is basically to try the drug I reacted to again, but with some new precautions.  He wanted me to take the steroid med they'd prescribed, Benadryl and Zantac last night as well as this morning.  So I was prepared today for both scenarios, but found out at about 10:00 am that they'd gotten "tentative" approval from the insurance company to go ahead with the Taxol so that became the plan.  I did take all the pre-meds just in case so I was a bit sleepy after two Benadryl at 1:00 this afternoon.  Anyway, because of the snow, it was a little touch and go with getting there, but my awesome neighbor Kathy drove me in her nice new four wheel drive truck and we had zero problem. 

Comfy chairs!

So we got there about 1:15 and checked in.  They took us back to the infusion room almost immediately and they decided to do a blood draw, which showed my neutraphil levels were still really high
 (19,000) so no Neulasta shot-yay! 

I didn't have a huge entourage today, just Kathy, Howard, and Jeff.  My friend Tracy (a member of the Real Breast Cancer Survivors of Snohomish County cast) was at the Cancer Partnership getting her very LAST dose of radiation (congratulations!) so she and her husband came for a visit.  She brought me a wonderful gift bag with some major meaning.  In it was a Wonder Woman Barbie.  Unfortunately, I am the 10th recipient of her, and my job will sadly be to pass it on to another breast cancer patient.  Every time I look at her I'll think of all the other women who've faced the same battle and made it through and will BELIEVE I will be among them.  Thank you Tracy.  I am so happy that you are through the tough stuff and I can't wait to plan our outfits for the three day!

**A little side note, I am a total medical professional snob.  If I happen to be a patient of yours someday, watch out because my expectations are H-I-G-H!  I did NOT care for my nurse today.  I'd say she's the first person I have not liked at the Cancer Partnership.  I won't name names, but she won't be getting a thank you card from me.  I asked to take her picture and she refused.  Yep.  Refused.  What-EVER.  Plus, I had to inform her that she was typing on the computer with gloves that had my blood spilled on them.  She was a bit odd but thankfully I didn't have a crisis or anything and really didn't deal with her too much.**

So the Taxol was no problem, which was a huge relief and the Cytoxin was a breeze just like before, so we were outta there in about three hours.  Not too shabby.  My next appointment is scheduled for February 7th, so I should be completely through with chemo by February 27th.  My plan is to run (or walk) with my buddy Denise in the St. Patty's day run in Seattle.  I can't think of a better way to celebrate.  Well, I could but still, you know what I mean.

Now do your job Honey Badgers!


That's Why They Get The Big Bucks

I love my oncologist Dr. Jiang.  Dr. Kent (my surgeon) is still number one on my list but Dr. Jiang is a clear second in terms of my overall doctor favs.  Here's the skinny on my situation. 

As you may know, I had a severe reaction to my Taxotere infusion on Thursday which caused them to halt my treatment completely and have to look for a new chemo regimen.  It was very devastating to me simply because I had a "plan" and now it was shot to hell.  Going through a cancer battle is a constant series of ups and downs.  Having a plan gives you a sense of control, which eases the anxiety and allows you to function somewhat normally.  Whenever something goes awry, it forces you back to that place of not knowing again, and for me, I don't like it there.  After Thursday's little fiasco it was back to the drawing board and a loss of what little control I felt I had. 

Just to back track a little.  The reaction I had on Thursday was very unusual.  My blood pressure shot up, my face turned bright red, and I had the feeling that I couldn't breathe.  Everyone there jumped into action and got control of the situation and I was feeling better within about half an hour.  The PA, Mark, came in and told me they couldn't continue with the treatment that day, and I would no longer be able to take the Taxotere drug.  This was extremely upsetting because I immediately thought my only choice was to go to a combination of drugs called Adriamycin Cytoxin.  Adriamycin was the chemo drug I was hoping to avoid, simply because of the potential for long term side effects and the harsher, more frequent regimen.  Cytoxin I was already getting, so that was of no concern to me.  Obviously I was going to do whatever I needed to do to kill this cancer, but it was a blow nonetheless. 

Well, I had my appointment with Dr. Jiang yesterday and it was such a relief!  He is going to put me on a combination of drugs called Taxol and Cytoxin.  Taxol is a "cousin" of the Taxotere, with one distinct difference.  Apparently, Taxotere has some sort of binding agent in it which causes the type of severe reaction I had.  Taxol does not have this binding agent in it, so there's no reason to believe I'll have another reaction.  Yay!  Taxol is typically not used for early stage breast cancer, but is approved in late stage metastatic breast cancers (we think because of cost), but since I can't tolerate the other, my insurance company should approve it.  Let's hope so or they will be getting a few not so pleasant phone calls from one bitchy bald chick. 

I go in Tuesday for treatment number two and I do get credit for the infusion I already had.  This will put me back on track to being halfway done.  Phew!  The side effects are pretty much the same between the two drugs, so there should be no surprises.  I'll actually be better off since I won't be needing to take the pre-treatment steroids (which made me antsy).  So, I can breathe a sigh of relief.  Thanks so much for the support and kind words everyone.  Whether you all know it or not, every little bit of support motivates me to stay positive and keep fighting.  Thank you!

Gooooooooo Honey Badgers! 


The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Awful


Karli and I
Today I was scheduled for my second of four chemo treatments.  Things started off really well.  My blood counts were still high, 18,000 and I was told I did not have to get the Neulasta shot (to boost white blood cell production), which caused me so much pain the last time.  My entourage today consisted of my aunt Diane, my friend Karli, Jeff and his dad Howard.  We got settled in to our infusion room and got things going.  First the anti-nausea meds (woo hoo) and then they started with the infusion of Taxotere.

This was SUPPOSED to be the good stuff!
Taxotere is the first of two chemo drugs in my regimen, the second is Cytoxin.  During my last treatment, I had a minor reaction to the Taxotere (nausea), but I was hoping that was just a fluke and this time would be no problem.  Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.  Within a couple of minutes of starting the infusion, major reaction.  As in "I can't breathe" major.  Yep, room full of people, blood pressure up to 170 something over 111, oxygen tank, the whole nine yards.  They immediately stopped the Taxotere and flushed my system out with just plain Saline.  After a few minutes I started feeling better and my vitals came down.  I thought maybe it was me and I had a panic attack, so we can just try it again right?  Maybe a little slower this time? Nope.

Nurse Jodi.  LOVED her!

Here's where the completely awful comes in.  They had to stop my chemo today and I have to have a new regimen figured out.  It's probably going to be the combination I was hoping to avoid-Adriamycin-but I may have no choice in the matter.  I am beyond disappointed.  Not only does this push my schedule out for who knows how long, but my regimen may be more intense and harder to tolerate.  Not the day I was hoping for.  I guess my Honey Badgers didn't like the tools they were given to work with and I've got to spring for some major equipment.  My nurse today, Jodi, was so great (as they all are) and left me with some words as inspiration.  She said "Everything happens for a reason and maybe this was not the drug you were supposed to have to get you better".  I hope she's right.  I HAVE to believe she's right.  But for today I'm frustrated and upset.  I have an appointment with the Oncologist tomorrow and we'll move to plan "B". 

I would like to send a special thanks out to my friend Deanna Mang who sent me this beautiful "Prayer Shawl".  That was so thoughtful of you, and boy do I need that today!  I will wear it faithfully.  Thank you so much for thinking of me.


Meet the Real Breast Cancer SURVIVORS of Snohomish County

Don't judge me.  I am a Real Housewives fanatic.  I've seen virtually every episode of every season with the exception of DC and Miami, which were both a hot mess (IMHO).  So, I think you should all be introduced to this year's cast of real and actual breast cancer fighters/survivors from Snohomish and surrounding cities (as they relate to moi).

Kimberly A. 

  I met Kimberly at Snohomish Boot Camp.  We were both regulars at the 5:30 a.m. class and got to know each other through our struggles with diet and exercise.  I was diagnosed on October 27th, and she was diagnosed on October 28th.  Crazy.  She's had a much rougher treatment regimen than me, but has the most amazing outlook and attitude and is nothing short of inspirational.  She's been such an important touchstone and I'm so glad I know her!  You can check out her blog here:  Kimberly's Journey.

Tracie E.


Tracie is also a Snohomish Boot Camper.  She had just started attending shortly before I was diagnosed, and another camper referred me to her after I found out about my cancer.  It's amazing how this disease can create immediate friendships.  Tracie was diagnosed in the fall of 2010 and has completed treatment and is doing A-MAZING!  It's so great to see someone a year out from diagnosis and doing so well.  She's walking proof it can be done and that hair does grow back!

Tracy L.

I cannot even tell you how important Tracy has been to me through this journey.  Tracy has twin daughters that play for the softball team my husband helps coach.  I don't know that we had ever had a single conversation, but I had heard through the grapevine that she was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer and was in the midst of her treatments when I found out about mine.  I was so desparate to talk to anyone about what I was going through, and what to expect, and I went out on a limb and asked a mutual friend for her phone number.  She was so great!  She told me everything.  We talked about treatment options, surgical options, emotions, our husbands, kids, how it felt, how it looked, and how does life go on after.  She gave me advice and listened while I broke down and cried.  She kept telling me "You'll get through it.  I know it doesn't feel like that now, but you will".  She was right.  The days of falling apart are fewer and farther between, and have been replaced with optimism and excitement for my future. 

Honorary cast member-Dawnelle J. (there's always one that doesn't fit the criteria)

  I feel the need to mention my dear friend Dawnelle here.  She doesn't have breast cancer, but she has been my go to girl for research and motivation.  She has sent me dozens of inspiring messages and has been there for me through this entire journey; making me laugh, bringing me things, and she took those beautiful family photos.  Her mom recently went through uterine cancer treatment and has had some great advice from that experience.  Who knew when I started working at that bank 20 years ago that we would be here today?  Love you and thank you!

Libby H.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you don't need to know about me but I'll give you the specs.  Diagnosed on October 27th, 2011 with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma at the age of 39.  I had a lumpectomy and am currently receiving chemotherapy (number 2 of 4 is tomorrow-halfway baby!).  I enjoy Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.  I'm not into yoga,but I'm into Champagne.  (wait that's a song, right?)  Anyhoo, you get the idea.

It has been such a gift to have access to all of these women throughout this "season".  I hope that I have the opportunity to support someone going through this in the same way they've supported me.  I know it would have been a much tougher journey without their inspiration and love.  I love you all dearly!

The Real Breast Cancer Fighters/Survivors of Snohomish County is a very EXCLUSIVE club.  I know, it seems like a BLAST and you may be thinking you'd like to join our little group.  I'm sorry, your request would be adamantly denied by all of us.  We've got enough members and can only hope no one EVER qualifies to join our group, EVER.  (But if you are forced, please feel free to reach out). 



Honey Badger Stole My Hair

Don't worry, it's all part of the "master plan".  You see, on his mission to kill every single cancer cell in my body, Honey Badger has to kill every other fast growing cell.  This means any and all hair (yes ALL), mucus membranes (hello bloody noses and dry mouth), and lots of other annoying (yet painless) little nuisances. 

Here's how it went down.  I basically knew somewhere around the two week mark, I could start losing my hair.  I woke up every morning checking the pillow, tugging ever so gently to see if it would come out, and was sort of living on pins and needles about it.  My biggest fear was to be walking through the grocery store and a random clump would just fall out and be hanging from the back of my coat.  Can you imagine?!  "Excuse me ma'am, you've got something on your jacket.  Oh, it's a big chunk of hair".  Yeah, that would be slightly embarrassing.  Fast forward to Thursday night.  Mandi and I were watching the season premier of Project Runway All Stars (go Mondo), when I reached up and low and behold, pulled out a handful of hair.  Hmmm.  Let's try this again.  So, I did, and yep, another handful.  JEFF!!!!!  IT'S HAPPENING!  Of course they were grossed out by the whole thing so I kept doing it, just to annoy them.  Hee hee hee.  Well, let's get the scissors and the clippers and have fun with it!

Mandi did the honorary first major cut.  Then she and I took turns.  There were basically no rules so you can imagine what a lovely look I had going.  Jeff stepped in with the clippers and tried various styles.  Mullet, flat top, I even had a "tail" at one point.  (None of those styles worked for me by the way)  Finally, we shaved the whole thing.  Weird.  Every time I look in the mirror I expect the person staring back at me to start singing ( think Sinead O'Connor circa "Nothing Compares To You").  It's quite strange, although I was surprisingly non-emotional over it.  I thought for sure it would be devastating but it's been ok.  I need to do some serious accessory shopping since I'm not super comfortable wearing the wig by itself.  With a hat I think it looks like my normal hair, I just need to get to the wig shop and have the gal do a little tweaking, then I'll be good to go. 
Yesterday I went to my friend Kyla's house and let her kids Ryan and Brianna use duct tape to get some of the stubble off.  It was pretty funny.  My entire head was covered in pink duct tape and Ryan was wearing my wig.  Ha!  Something they'll never forget I bet!  We had fun with it.  What else can you do, cry?  Yeah...did that last night.  I had about five minutes when it hit me that I looked weird, and then I got over it.  Now it's all about being creative and getting comfortable.  I'll get there.  I've got the best support system in the world who remind me every day that they love me hair or no hair.  Thank you my dear friends and family. 
To end on a good note...I have been feeling great!  No nausea meds for days now and I feel completely normal (minus the hair).  I'm so fortunate to be tolerating the chemo really well.  Yay!  My next treatment is Thursday, January 12th.  I'll be ready.

Go Honey Badgers!