9.11.2014

Surviving "The Big C"



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Here's the cold, hard truth, my friends. Cancer happens. And even if you don't experience it as closely as I have, you will most-likely be affected by it, or have close family or friends who are. heck, you probably already have been!

When my mom was diagnosed, I searched Pinterest & Google for some down-to-earth idea of what this would be like, but I didn't find much that wasn't from a medical point-of-view... which was helpful! ...but I didn't relate. I couldn't. I'm writing this for all of the fighters, and to me, that means the patient and the family members. I hope, I HOPE, I can answer some questions with this, for someone out there. This post is for page views, and it is for re-pins. I want it to get out there, I want it to circulate, so that it can help somebody like me, who was facing all of this, and looking for some simple answers and tips on the subject of cancer and chemotherapy.

FIRST, a brief history + disclaimer:
     My mom had stage 2, "invasive carcinoma in situ" ... I know, big words. I actually didn't know the real name for it until I asked her just now. which is probs good cause you hear the word invasive and ya freak out a little!
In January, she found a lump, went in for a diagnostic mammogram, they pulled her into that thing till she was up to her neck, and they found the primary source close to her chest wall. Luckily we have a stellar PCP, who recommended all the right doctors for us.

Her path was this:
> Unilateral (one side) mastectomy, spacer put in place until reconstruction. (plastic surgeon was Dr. Mark Jensen, if you read NieNie, it's the same dude! Dr. J!)
> 6 rounds of chemo, 3 weeks apart. (Dr. Nathan Rich of Utah Valley Cancer Center)
> 25 rounds of radiation (she so lovingly shouts, "Thanks for the death rays" when she leaves each day)

Disclaimer: everyone is different. even if you have the same cancer as my mom, your symptoms and reactions will most-likely be different in some or all ways. At the same time, even if symptoms vary, this stuff is pretty general.

SO, that being said, we can move on.
I will try my best to make is short and sweet, but no promises. might be a novel. yolo.

The tangible necessities:

> An Open/Closed sign --- you guys. I can't even stress how great this was. It's kind of hard to be like, please go away, to people you love. But the truth is, you can't have people in and out of your house all the time, especially when chemo starts. you need to establish boundaries with neighbors and friends, and this is honestly the best way to do it. People pay attention to it, and they respect your privacy.  (also works for after you have a baby when the neighbors won't stop buggin')
 *Email me if you want a download of the sign I made!

> MOVIES. and NETFLIX ---- we all have our comfort movies, and that may be JUST what the sicky needs. My mom discovered "The Middle" not too long before she started chemo, so that was a go-to a lot of the time. We also watched Austenland... ehhh I'd say weekly .... for a few months. (and we are still finding hilarious, tiny, subtle lines that we never noticed in the 22 viewings before)

> Hats & scarves --- hair usually starts falling out at about day 12 after the first chemo round. some people let it fall out slowly, but after a few days of it starting to fall out, I came home to the adorable sight of my dad shaving my mom's head in the kitchen. (I think it was so cute to me because my mom has given my dad hair-cuts in the kitchen for as long as I can remember) so HATS! she was really self-conscious of it for the first couple months, but eventually she started to go out in public (the front yard & the car) without a hat. I personally, would be a scarf person. but hey, what ever tickles your fancy!

> A stellar therapist --- Us Robinsons are pretty prone to anxiety, so we already had a solid family therapist for whoever may need her services. There were some weeks when mama would be too sick to go, of course, but it is usually recommended that you go see a therapist during your treatments. Chemo messes with your head intensely. From not remembering the word "sidewalk" (you can laugh), to being scared out of your mind at your symptoms, because you don't remember them happening before. It's scary stuff. you need a professional to talk to. there is absolutely no shame in it.

> Hand sanitizer --- in case you don't know much about chemo, here's a little lesson; the chemicals can't pick and choose which cells to kill, so they kill good cells too. This means a low white blood cell count. And if you don't know the function of white blood cells, they play a huge role in fighting infection. We went all-out and got Avagard, the sanitizer they use in doctors offices. At some medical supply stores, it's way expensive, but at the one down by UVRMC (if you're in Utah), it was about $5 for a big bottle. (again good for having a new baby around)
   * along with this, get some masks. cause if you (a family member) get sick, breathing near a chemo patient is the last place you should be.

> Ginger --- My mom was lucky enough to not have thrown up a single time through her treatments. It may be because of the Aloxi, a drug that they gave her with each chemo round. She also took 2 ginger pills in the morning and 2 at night. (check with your doctor before any of this, though) Ginger is a natural remedy for nausea, so... pretty important I'd say.

> Good lotion & chap stick --- chemo dries you out, man! get the good stuff. (Burt's Bee's! BURT'S BEE'S!)

> Food & Water --- duh holly, duh. I know I know, it sounds dumb. But ya know what else chemotherapy does? It jacks up your taste buds! Water and food taste like c-r-a-p. And who wants to drink 63 oz of water when it tastes nasty? WELL SUCK IT UP. With my mom, she could only eat what she could eat. So eat what EVER sounds good to you, chow down. Before chemo, one of the nurses told us to eat what sounds good, even if it was a hamburger. (McDonalds was a constant for us for a few weeks) And pleeease STAY HYDRATED. That seems self-explanatory though. If water tastes yucky, try some of the Mio stuff, or Crystal Light powder.

> Blankets --- Chemotherapy can make ya reeeal cold. So stay stocked up! (it helps if you have rad people around you who make ya about a hundred quilts and blankets. sheesh!)

>Tissues --- your nose will run like Forrest Gump, whether you are crying or not. 

> Calendar --- I recommend 2; one for writing down appointments (because you (the patient) won't be able to remember a lot of the time) and one for writing down the details. you know? Like how bad + what symptoms you had on the days after chemo, to compare when the next round comes. (usually it gets worse the further you get, but it seems like the "bad days" stayed in a steady pattern, so it's good to go back and be like, Ok, so day 3 is gonna be a doozy)

Am I missing anything? If I am, shoot me an email! h.therob@gmail.com
but wait-- we're not done! onto...

Mental necessities:

> A sense of humor --- after the initial shock, and even kind of through it, a sense of humor was really what kept us going, and it's what made all the difference in our attitudes. boob jokes all around. Don't let illness consume you so much that you're left without a smile for hours on end. In my mom's  worst hours on her bad chemo days, I would make a super ugly face, or quote a funny movie, and she would at LEAST give a little smile. and that kept me going, that's how I knew that she was still in there.

> Acceptance --- you need to accept a lot of thing, but we aren't talking about the stages of grief here (although that's important too). You need to accept help. People around you will want to cook for you, they'll want to give you gifts and give your kids rides, and it is so important that you let them. Your friends and family can't take away the cancer, they can't lessen the pain, and they can't always make you feel happy. But they can make your family dinner, that is something they can do. So let them serve you, because chances are you'd be doing the same for them.

> Functioning tear ducts --- Bottling up feelings and emotions has a success rate of 0. Speaking for the patient AND the family members, LET IT OUT. Cry, please.

> Faith & Hope ---  I am a Mormon, so my beliefs may differ from yours, (although you should really check us out) but no matter what, just don't lose hope. Take things one day at a time, and never lose your hope and your faith that everything will turn out exactly how Heavenly Father intended it to. There is a plan, and every little thing, every little moment, every big crappy illness, is in that plan. There will be times when moving on and going about your day will seem impossible, when you don't feel brave, and the "not feeling brave" will make you even more sad. But through this year, I've decided that being brave doesn't mean you can't cry or break down, it means that even if you are crying, you keep going, and you don't give up.

I have never lived away from home, never been anywhere on my own, but by gosh have I grown up. This year has been hard, and I'm not going to say "I wouldn't trade it for the world"... because that is just nonsense, because cancer sucks. The lessons learned have been real whoppers, and I'm glad that I have the faith that I have. There were a lot of sad, hard moments; but then there were also a lot of good moments.

"Let us remember that through any illness or difficult challenge, there is still so much in this life to be hopeful about and grateful for. We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions." - Jeffrey R. Holland

Read more about my mama and stuff here >>> 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8





3 comments:

  1. You are amazing Holly! Watching how positive you've been through this whole thing is so inspiring. This is all so good to know!!!! And I haven't been affected by cancer, but I agree 100% with allowing yourself to feel emotions rather then bury them. In other words, "cry it out". Good for you using the experience to help others! Love you girl!

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    1. Maddie, you are for SURE doing the same! you are equally as inspiring, seriously. love YOU!

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  2. Excellent, Holly. You should make this into a pamphlet and get it published and distributed to dr. offices. Really well done.

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