Chemo Brain Revisited

Today I realized the importance of the after c part of this blog. I thought all the important stuff was in all the during posts. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I worked this morning, then made lunch before I had to go to an appointment with my oncologist. As I was putting my sandwich together, my phone started to ring. It was one of the universities I requested information from, and I wasn’t going to answer. I wanted to eat my lunch in peace. But I hadn’t picked up the last couple times (because they always called me when I was at work), and I really wanted to talk to them, so I picked up.

So I answered, and we talked about the program I was interested in. I talked about my goals with finishing my masters, including my thesis and graduate certificate, and then my plans of taking the BCBA certification exam. I mentioned how I wanted to take next summer to focus on studying for the certification exam, and didn’t want to start any new education programs until the fall, at the very earliest, assuming I pass the certification exam on the first try.

I told the guy about how I was apprehensive about the certification exam because I still struggle to read and retain information due to chemo brain. That tiny little statement changed the entire course of our conversation. It turned out, the guy I was talking to is also a cancer survivor. He told me that he knew exactly what I meant about the chemo brain, and told me that he talked to his oncologist about it when he experienced it, and his oncologist made recommendations that assisted him in overcoming it. I won’t mention what his oncologist’s recommendations were, both because he had a totally different cancer and the actual treatment was irrelevant. The point is that just because my cancer is gone doesn’t mean there aren’t still going to be things that I should consult with my oncologist for.

I thought chemo brain was just something I was going to have to live with. I play games, try to read, and otherwise keep my brain engaged as often as I possibly can. I thought that would help exercise my brain back into shape. I didn’t know they were other options. Now I do.

And I think it’s important to share this information because other people might feel the same way. They may finish their treatment and think that there’s nothing else they need to do, or that there’s nothing else they can do, because the cancer is over. That’s simply not true. And these are things I may not have even considered if I hadn’t picked up the phone.

So at my appointment today I talked about two things. One thing was the chemo brain, for which he referred me to a neurologist. Dr. YB said the neurologist might have different activities and exercises for me to do to help alleviate the symptoms of the chemo brain. The second thing is the aching in my toes, feet, ankles, and knees. Whenever I get up after sitting for a while, I struggle to get moving and am so sore in those areas. Dr. YB knew exactly what I was talking about and said it was a side effect of the hormone blocker. He advised me to stay off it for two weeks, then resume for two weeks, and see how I feel. If it is the hormone blocker, then we may switch to Tamoxifen. So I’ll report back on that.

We talked about some other things, and I’ll share more about that in another post!

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

Hello, hello!

Presently, I’m sitting in the backseat of my car while me, Brad, and his brother, Jeff, head to Charlotte for a concert. We’re going to see Breaking Benjamin (can’t resist one of their concerts if it’s within a 200 mile radius), Chevelle, Three Days Grace, Diamante, and Dorothy at the PNC Music Pavilion. It’s a three hour trip so I have plenty of time to marinate on the different ramblings in my head.

First, we’re doing the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in North Charleston on October 27. I’m excited. Team More Than Ribbons is back! If you want to come walk with us, please do! I want lots of people to join! If you can’t walk but want to make a donation, that would be amazing!! Here’s the link to join our team: click here.

This is the second trip to Charlotte Brad and I have made this summer. We went up back in July for a book signing. We had a great time and even brought Barkley along. The little guy had to have surgery last month because he broke a tendon/ligament in his knee, so we didn’t feel right leaving him behind when he was recovering. He’s doing great though, it’s like there was never even anything wrong with him. Before his surgery, he was running around on three legs like he didn’t even need the fourth leg. Anyway, he goes for his six week post-op checkup next week. He’s a maniac though, so you’d never guess he had surgery.

We have a couple more weekend trips planned this year. We’ll be heading to New York for a book show next month, and West Virginia for another in November. We’re also entertaining the idea of heading to Universal Studios in Florida in October to do their Halloween stuff. Busy, busy, busy, but always looking for an adventure!

In other news, I’m taking the last two classes for my graduate certificate in the fall, beginning right after Labor Day. I sent my thesis proposal in to my adviser for feedback, and hoping to get the go ahead from him on that. I’d like to present it at a conference here in November, so that’s my completion goal. It’s my priority for the next two months, so hopefully that’ll get rolling soon.

At work, we had camp for our kiddos this summer. It’s always such a great time and it got me thinking about the long term. I volunteered to help my boss organize Social Saturdays at our clinic for our kiddos during the school year. This is something I’d love to continue to do in the future. I was thinking about what I want to do with my degree and certification once I’m finished and while I would absolutely love to continue to do home-based therapy with kiddos with autism, I think I’d also love to run a camp, too. It’s something that’s always been a little niggling thought in the back of my head, but not anything I thought I could really implement. But our camp at work has really inspired me and I’d love to do more. In fact, I’d love to start with a summer camp and grow into a year-round school for kids with autism. It’s such a long term goal, but it’s there, and when I get an idea in my head, I tend to aim high and go for it. (If you haven’t already figured that out, haha.) So I’m looking into special education and autism education doctoral programs to help make this dream a reality. I’ll keep you posted.

Ok, I’m getting a little nauseated from trying to be productive in the car and I still need to post to the More Than Ribbons website and make some fundraising notes.

xoxo

When the going gets tough…

I heard someone on the radio talking about how people often quit when things get too difficult. They use some idiom about how it wasn’t meant to be or it’s not the right time, etc. when in reality, it IS the right time, they just have to push through the tough parts.

This resonated with me, particularly at this time in my life when I’m working on finishing my thesis for my masters program, and completing a graduate certificate for my certification all while going to school, trying to get my fieldwork experience in, writing, trying to be the healthiest version of me, and so on and so on and so on. The end of my academic journey is so near, but it’s so much work! I’d never give up after getting so far, but when I heard that guy saying that stuff, I was like HECK YEAH!! Absolutely!! It always gets harder at the end. Look at those obstacle courses on the ninja warrior shows, they never have you finish on a downward slide, it’s always an uphill climb.

So yeah…something to think about.

Sedentary.

sed·en·tar·y
/ˈsednˌterē/
adjective
· (of a person) tending to spend much time seated; somewhat inactive
· (of work or a way of life) characterized by much sitting and little
· (of a position) sitting; seated

When I hear the word “sedentary,” it makes me think of any time I filled out a questionnaire that was calculating my calories or determining some other kind of wellness recommendation.

Activity Level: Sedentary

Years ago, I lived a fairly active lifestyle. I was a nanny for some pretty great kids (one of which just graduated high school – let’s let that sink in!) and they kept me on my toes! We were always on the go and I wish it had been in the days of the smart watch because OH BOY! The steps I would have logged on that thing.

When I left my nanny gig, I moved to a desk job and proceeded to work behind a desk for the next ten years. The weight gain didn’t happen overnight. It gradually happened over the course of those ten years. I never really had to exercise before because I was active and my metabolism was mostly on my side, so I wasn’t inclined to start then. One day I realized, whoa, you need to do something. So I wasted money at an assortment of gyms, did some walking, and never really made much progress.

Now I’m back to working a job where I remain active throughout the day, AND I’m exercising regularly. Part of my job requires me to be seated and writing also requires me to be seated, but that’s where the exercise comes in handy. I think one side benefit to being active is that you want to STAY active. You want to keep moving. Sure, sometimes I get tired and want to take a mid-day nap, and there’s no shame in that, but for the most part I’m of the mindset: what’s next? I want to go Go GO!

Back to that term…sedentary. I’m not anymore, and it’s a good thing because WHOA health risks.

– Physical inactivity may increase the risks of certain cancers.
– Physical inactivity may contribute to anxiety and depression.
– Physical inactivity has been shown to be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases.
– People who engage in more physical activity are less likely to develop coronary heart disease.
– People who are more active are less likely to be overweight or obese.
– Sitting too much may cause a decrease in skeletal muscle mass.
– Physical inactivity is linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

Worldwide, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases. In fact, it was recently reported that inactivity is responsible for more annual deaths than smoking.

LifeSpan Fitness
LifeSpan Fitness

Crazy stuff, right? Makes me want to get up and move! I think my next investment will be one of those desks that raise up so you can stand while you work.

For anyone who has a desk job, do a Google search for “exercises you can do at your desk” and you’ll get a wide variety of options to get your blood pumping during the workday. I wish I’d done more of that when I worked behind a desk, or at least had a pedometer to get me going.

Life after C

You guys.

I have an app on my phone called “Microsoft To-Do.” I used to use the regular iPhone “Reminders” app, but when I discovered that the Microsoft app could also be downloaded on my PCs and all sync together, I was sold. I have a point, I promise. Every five days or so, I get a notification that a “blog post” is due. And every five days or so I think to myself, “but I have nothing to say!” So I clear the notification and move on.

I just logged in and looked at my post history…May, April, March, February, February, February, January, etc.

I am so sorry! I know that “no news is good news,” I said that in my last post. But I feel like I’m supposed to be a little motivational and inspirational about how NORMAL life after C is. And maybe the skipped notifications are proof enough of that.

I am on a health and wellness journey, and I DO want to talk about that because health after something as devastating and debilitating as cancer is super important.

So let’s sort of rewind to when my health and wellness journey started. If you’ve been following me a while, you’ll know that last spring, my surgeon told me that in order to have the surgery I wanted to have (flap DIEP), I had to not gain any more weight. That was in March of last year, and that started my journey. I decided that I was not going to gain another pound, and instead lose ALL the pounds. Well, THAT didn’t happen, but I did lose some weight before my surgery.

It was kind of a crazy time to start a health and wellness journey. I was about a month away from having a surgery that would have me out of commission for at least six weeks. I’d develop healthy habits I’d have to somewhat curb for an undetermined amount of time. But I needed to be in the right condition for the surgery, so I did it.

Post-surgery, I had no appetite. I had to practically force myself to eat so I could take my meds, and at that point, I was eating anything I could tolerate. So, unfortunately, I wasn’t eating great. I didn’t get my appetite back for a couple weeks, if I remember correctly. And at that time, I tried to eat as best I could, but with my limited mobility, I was at the mercy of others. I didn’t eat terribly, but I wasn’t on plan and it was disappointing. Fast forward through a long recovery and being unable to exercise, which had me totally miserable in itself, and just eating whatever. Then I had another surgery, it was the holidays, Daisy got sick, etc.

My journey began then a second time. And this time it was a little bit different. I had tried the nutrition plan I used the last time, but I wasn’t seeing the same results and it was frustrating. I talked to my doctors because I was concerned with the visceral fat I now had to get rid of in my abdomen, and they gave me conflicting advice, but I did learn that my problem was that my body is post-menopausal now due to the hormone blockers I am getting. So it was quite possible that I wasn’t seeing results because I was eating too much and my metabolism is slower. So I changed to another nutrition plan, and this one has been amazing! Since the beginning of April, I have lost 10 pounds and a few inches! That’s including a week of vacation with lots of alcohol and not so much exercise.

So I’m still a work in progress, but I’m doing this thing. I also started coaching, and I’ve been helping some pretty amazing women meet their full potential on their health and wellness journeys as well. It has been such a motivating experience and I love this journey that I’m on.

So that’s what my focus here will be, because that’s what my Life After C has been. It’s all about being healthy, both mentally and physically. Hopefully you’ll find some value here.

Anniversaries, Relay For Life, Cancer Sucks, and Maybe More

It was kind of hard to come up with a title for this post…can you tell? Just lots to update on!

May 10th will be one year cancer-free for me! I kind of had that “ah-ha moment” yesterday, where I suddenly realized it’s May and I had my mastectomy in May so it was almost one full year. Pretty cool, I think.

Also, on May 3rd Brad and I celebrated our 11 year anniversary. Congrats to us for putting up with each other this long! Here’s to another 11! Er…here’s to forever! Kidding…I love you, Brad.

The Relay For Life event was April 26. We had a great time. The survivor lap was humbling. Just seeing all those cancer survivors…how crazy. I always knew cancer sucked, but going to an event like that REALLY shows you just how much it sucks. We did not last until midnight, we were SO tired, but we stayed until the luminaries were lit, which was around 10:30. Here are some pics from the event.

The Relay For Life was a Friday night, and that Sunday we went to the hospital to visit our friend Heather who has been fighting a fierce fight with a very aggressive cancer. Unfortunately Heather lost her fight on Tuesday. She left behind a husband and two young kids who are going to miss her so much. We attended her services this passed weekend, and it was beautiful, but completely heartbreaking.

It makes you want to know why, you know? Why did she have to lose the fight? There are two kids out there now without a mommy. Two adorable, sweet 5 and 7 year old kids. A husband without a wife. It sucks. Cancer sucks.

And that’s the reason why I participate in the Relay For Life. I do it for the Heathers, the Matts, the Alyssas and the Lukes. I do it for the parents, sisters, brothers, friends, and other relatives of people fighting cancer. I do it for every single person in that funeral home and the church.

No one should have to attend the funeral of a 32 year old mom who died from cancer.

Golf Tournament Recap

I’ve needed some time to chill, process, and get back to my regular routine after the tournament, but I’ve been wanting to post a recap of the event.

First of all, everyone was SO generous. My expectations for our first event were exceeded in both players and dollars.

The tournament had a profit of around $4300.

I was not expecting that. I wasn’t expecting 59 players and I wasn’t expecting thousands in profit. Especially not for our first effort that was put together in three months time.

I can’t thank everyone who participated enough for their generosity. I’m still sort of riding the high of a successful event so I’m thinking I’ll probably do it again next year, only this time we’ll start the planning process a lot earlier! I plan to post the pictures I took on the More Than Ribbons website and Facebook page soon, so please look us up on Facebook.

Fundraising for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life is a year-round thing, so if you want to either participate in the Relay or make a donation, there is always opportunity to donate to team More Than Ribbons!! Link: https://bit.ly/2FL8Jn8

No news is good news!

Y’all. I’m so sorry it’s been over a month since my last post. Since this is a cancer blog, that’s a good thing, right? I really want to include some of the life after cancer stuff, so I’m sorry about that.

First things first (priorities!!), Barkley is doing great. He’s 12 weeks and had some more vaccines today. He’s still a maniac, and can be found at @sirbarkleyelkins on Instagram.

I’ve actually seen each of my three doctors in the last 2 weeks and everything is going great. Oncologist, breast surgeon, and plastic surgeon. I’ll be seeing them again in 3, 6, and 12 months, respectively. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life not being dictated by doctors’ appointments anymore, with the exception of my Lupron shot every few weeks.

What else is new? Classes are finishing up and I’ll be off for the summer before starting my LAST official semester of grad school. I plan to work on my thesis this summer to wrap up my masters degree, and then take my last two classes in the fall to finish my additional graduate certificate. The end is near, and when it happens, I’ll have my Masters in Psychology with a certificate in Behavior Intervention in Autism. I feel like I’ve been going to school forever, but I love it, so it hasn’t been a hardship, it’ll just be nice to have one thing off my plate. The whole student loan payback thing is gonna suck though.

A couple things related to my recovery that I’ve been meaning to talk about…I still have no feeling in my breasts, though it is returning a little bit around the outside and working its way in. Dr H said the feeling may never fully return, but it’s interesting to see how it’s gradually coming back. Same with my belly area. On the surface, I have no feeling. It also feels really funny underneath because I can feel soreness in my abs when I workout, but that’s about it. Sometimes I can’t tell if I have a stomach ache, sore abs, or cramps because it’s so hard to determine where exactly the feeling is coming from.

Second thing is also ab related. Well, abdomen related I guess. The docs took the fat from my abdominal area on the outside of my abs. My “flab,” so to speak. So now my abs are right beneath my skin, and as I gain weight, I’ll gain it underneath them – visceral fat that hangs out around my organs. We all need some of that fat to an extent to protect our organs, but too much can be detrimental. I certainly hope to not harvest a whole bunch of that crap, and I’m working hard to lose it, but because I’m post menopausal due to my current maintenance treatment (Lupron and Letrozole combo), it’ll be more challenging for me to lose weight. That’s not going to stop me from trying though. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve dropped an inch around my waist and an inch around my hips. I’ve also lost around 5 lbs.

I had to change my nutrition plan to better suit my current needs and situation, and it’s working great for me. I’m still eating very healthy foods that I choose and I’m feeling satiated. It’s a good plan and SO easy to implement. I love it. Brad is even following it without difficulty.

Anyway, I do want to talk about the golf tournament, but I’m exhausted, so I’ll share that another day. Hope you’re all doing well!

Cancer Sucks.

Need I say more?

I think I’ve talked about this before, how when you’re diagnosed with cancer, you seem to realize how many people around you have or have had cancer. It’s a horrible, horrible number, which is why I will probably volunteer and raise funds for cancer organizations for the rest of my life. We seriously NEED a world without cancer, and if I can put even the tiniest dent in that goal, I will.

In recent months, I’ve had two friends diagnosed with cancer. In the past year, another one of my friends joined the ranks, and prior to my diagnosis, another friend had started his fight with cancer. These are people who are my age…mid to late 30s. There have been other people I’ve been acquainted with or told about over the last couple years who have been diagnosed, too, varying ages. It’s just crazy how widespread this disease is. It’s crazy and so damn frustrating.

It makes me mad that cancer doesn’t care that these people have friends and family who love them. That they are good people just trying to make it through life and do the best they can. Between the four people I mentioned, there are nine kids who have to watch their parent struggle in one way or another. Two of those friends are in the hospital, one is home recovering from surgery, and the other one is going for radiation this week. I’m sure every single one of them has shouted at the top of their lungs, “Give me a break!!!” I know I did at least once during my fight.

Sometimes when I hear of the struggles others with cancer are going through, I feel guilty. I feel like I got off easy, you know? Deep down, I know that’s not true. I know my body fought hard through chemo and recovery from my bazillion surgeries. I know my body was so weak and I had to rebuild my strength. I know it wasn’t easy when everything was happening, that I looked and felt like shit, but it’s so easy to look back and say, “What I went through wasn’t so bad,” when I see my friends being hospitalized because their bodies are being beaten down by their diseases. When I see them going through it longer than I went through it. My treatment was short. I was never hospitalized. My side effects were always pretty manageable with medications.

My fight is over and I feel great. And sometimes I feel guilty for that, and I think that’s an OK think to feel. I think that’s normal. Survivor’s guilt, in a sense?

Anyway…Barkley is absolutely fantastic and if you have Instagram, you should follow his shenanigans at @sirbarkleyelkins It’s mostly pictures of him sleeping because he’s a pup and that’s what he does, but he’s ADORABLE! And tomorrow he is 7 weeks!

Our family grew by four feet!

First, thanks to the friends who reached out on Friday. I was feeling pretty blue, and you all made me feel better. We all have those days when we feel terrible about everything, and that was me on Friday. Everything sucked. I napped, exercised, and had dinner at Cici’s Pizza. It was perfect.

But now, drumroll please…

This is Sir Barkley “the Trash Panda” Elkins. What’s with the name? Lemme break it down for you.

Sir Barkley is for Charles Barkley because this little guy is our rebound dog and Charles Barkley was a rebound dude. And Trash Panda is a Guardians of the Galaxy thing…Drax calls Rocket (raccoon) a trash panda. Our Barkley has a mask over his eyes, like a raccoon or a panda.

Barkley is a chihuahua blue heeler mix. He’s 5 weeks old. His mom stopped nursing, which is why he was released earlier than puppies usually are. He is a little ball of energy who goes bananas for 30 minutes to an hour, then crashes for 30 minutes to two hours.

We are feeding him powdered puppy milk and he was getting some watered down dry puppy food. He prefers the puppy milk, though. We’re going to keep trying the puppy food every now and then.

He’s playful and handsome and stealing the hearts of everyone he meets. He fits in the palm our hand. He’s also very smart. He loves his toys and hates his crate.

He’s a momma’s boy. When he hears my voice or sees me, he takes off after me. It’s the absolute sweetest thing, if I do say so myself. Daisy was a daddy’s girl, so it fits that this little man is a momma’s girl.

I’ve been calling him a Puppy McNugget since he’s so small. His mom was typical chihuahua size and his dad was about knee-high, so he’ll be somewhere between, which was about Daisy’s size, too, which is perfect.

We’re happy to have him, and we see things in him that make us think Daisy would approve. We fully intend on spoiling him rotten and capturing every moment. Brad joked that we should start an Instagram for him. I guess we’ll see. I have one I barely remember to use, so maybe we’ll just use that. He goes for his vaccinations in a week. Wish him luck!

As for me…I’m getting some teeth yanked on Friday, so wish me luck! We’re supposed to go to see Old Dominion, but I’ll have had IV anesthesia so we’ll see if I can join. Talk about crappy timing…