Blood, Sweat, and Tears…But Not in That Order

16 04 2011

Image Courtesy of the American Red Cross.

There was blood, sweat, and tears yesterday, but not in that order.

First came the tears.

Friday was Parent/Teacher Conference Day at Theo’s school. I pride myself on being organized and efficient. I claimed our slot the first day the sign-up sheets were posted. Then, I came home and marked it on our family calendar. I’m sure somewhere in my subconcious, this thought lurked: I may be fighting breast cancer, but I can still manage our daily life with the best of ’em!

I thought our conference was at 10:20 a.m. I would have bet money on it. Big money.

So, when we arrived at 10:15, I thought we were right on schedule.

Not.

There was another parent waiting awkwardly in the wings as Theo’s teacher explained that we were late; our 20-minute conference slot had been at 10 a.m.

There was a perfectly reasonable solution to this problem — 11 a.m was wide open and in the meantime, we could meet with Theo’s music teacher. But I broke down sobbing anyway. Right there, in the school lobby.

That should have been my first clue.

I pulled myself together — well, mostly — and we met with Theo’s music teacher and then his classroom teacher. They are both terrific and, despite my earlier breakdown, it went well.

Next, the sweat.

My bff Anita Griglio Kelly chauffered me to yesterday’s chemo infusion. I was feeling pretty weak when we arrived, but I was determined to get my treatment. I had chills, then sweats, then chills again. That mystery was short-lived after the lab results of blood drawn when I arrived at the Infusion Center came back. Although I’d had an infusion of Procrit on Tuesday in an effort to raise my red blood cell counts, they had continued to plummet. I needed two units of blood, asap.

Finally, the blood.

Following my chemo infusion, I went straight to the ER, where the doctors and nurses prepared me for the first blood tranfusions of my life. I’d been on the giving end many a time. It was a bit surreal to be on the receiving end.

My blood was sent to the lab to confirm and reconfirm that my blood type is indeed A+, then “cross-matched” for other markers that would indicate which packets of the donor blood available were the least likely to be rejected by my body.

Finally, two units of the most beautiful crimson liquid I’ve ever seen in my life arrived in Room 8 of the ER. Might as well have been liquid gold. The nurse accessed my port and the tranfusions began.

During the next six hours, as I watched the blood slowly drip from the bag and travel through clear plastic tubing to the port in my chest, I wondered who it was who had been kind, generous, and selfless enough to donate blood for a complete stranger. I would never know.

But if I could, I would tell that person that their gift restored and rejuvenated the Mom of a little five-year-old boy named Theo and the Wife of a loving husband named Don who just yesterday told me that he is treasuring every day we have together on this planet. I’d tell them that I went from a woman so low on “fuel” that she could barely sustain a simple Parent/Teacher conference earlier that day, to one who cooked a breakfast of french toast and bacon with her family the very next morning. Most of all, I’d say two simple words: Thank you.

Several times last evening I looked up at that donor bag of blood and thanked God that there was someone out there who was willing to give it, destination unknown.

So, although I am humbled and grateful for the many people who are stepping forward to donate blood on my behalf, designated specifically for me should I need it in the upcoming months, I also have another request.

Whether or not you are A+, whether or not you can help me specifically, please give blood.

There are lots of “Amys” out there who desperately need it. Go to The Red Cross website and make an appointment. There are convenient donation sites all around, it takes but a few minutes, and it is truly a life-changing gift.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





Status Update: Positive News!

11 04 2011

Yes, I know you must feel like yo-yos. I do, too.

But the meeting with my oncologist today went very well. What she said made a lot of sense. And I trust her and her insights and medical knowledge. She is a good egg.

I was accompanied by my husband, Don, and sister, Lisa. We covered all the bases, got all our questions answered, such as:

Yes! the CT Scan really does indicate shrinkage in the four lung tumors! Yes, it is entirely possible that the three spots showing on my liver are benign/hemangiomas! Yes! There are lots and lots of treatments available and for now, there’s no need to worry about that, as this one is working!

I’m wiped out at the moment, but wanted to post and say, Yes! I think we are indeed headed in the right direction!

More later…promise. This takes a lot outta a girl.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





Status Update: Doctor’s Office

11 04 2011

At doctor’s office waiting to see my Oncologist and hoping for answers. Also hope I don’t start sobbing. I hate when I do that.

I smell hyacinths which remind me of Spring and miracles. Maybe I’ll pick some up on the way home.

Copyright 2011 Amy Rauch Neilson





Guest Post: Amy’s Power Walk

23 02 2011

Artwork courtesy of http://www.cafepress.com

How does one begin a chemo afternoon with Amy?

It all started with the power-walk in the parking structure. Before I had my keys in my bag and my purse slung over my shoulder, a blonde blur shot past me, walking and breathing, walking and breathing, swinging her arms. I wasn’t sure if we were late, or what, but we were hauling!

“Need to get a little exercise today,” she called over her shoulder, as she all but left me in her dust in the Beaumont Hospital South Deck Skywalk. “Gotta get some of my numbers up.” So away we went.

I think it’s fair to say that, as a first-time Chemo Buddy for Amy, I had no idea where I was headed. Does anyone ever really know where they’re headed when they’re with Amy? After trailing behind Power Walker Woman through doors and around corners, jogging in place on elevators, sneaking through secret short-cuts and creeping up and down miles of hallway, I felt just like a hamster in a habitrail. But the best was yet to come.

That’s when Amy came upon a table, dropped her 37-ton purse, glanced back at me and said, “Watch my stuff,” then completely disappeared. I saw her briefly as she bounced down the first flight of stairs, arms in motion, jogging down two floors to the reception area beneath us. I could hear her footsteps tap-tat-tapping on the stairs until they faded away to nothing. A moment passed, and, just as I was wondering where she’d gone, I heard them again: tap-TAP-TAP!

I peered over the banister and there was the blonde blur, bouncing back up the steps. “Ready,” she said, a little out of breath. “You got my stuff?”

I grabbed her purse and looked up to answer, but she didn’t hear me. She was already way ahead of me… again.

For Part I of this post, see “Begging For Chemo,” Feb. 22, 2011.

Copyright 2011, Jennifer Amprim Wolf





The Good News, the Bad News…but always, Hope

25 01 2011

I am really scared. Yesterday’s doctor’s appt. did indeed bring the fabulous news that my tumor is triple-negative. It also brought the shocking news that my cancer is at a Stage 3 or Stage 4. I had not heard these “staging numbers” before yesterday and early on in this journey that is only 16 days old but feels like 16 years, the hope was that we were looking at an early stage breast cancer, Stage 1 or Stage 2.

The MRI results yesterday told a different story, with a sizeable tumor and lymph node involvement in my left breast as well as a possible spot on my clavicle and right lung. I leave for the lung biopsy in a little over an hour. Results should be in by Friday. Please pray that the results are negative, that it’s a scar from a previous bronchitis. That result would scale me back to a Stage 3, with a much more favorable, long-term manageable hope.

All of that said, in breast cancer, Stage 3 or Stage 4 is not necessarily a death sentence. I have not been given weeks or months to live. Though no one has a crystal ball, I could conceivably live for many years through the amazing new treatments — like Iniparib — that are becoming available almost daily. For that, I thank God in heaven above and all of the amazing, dedicated scientists whose work is saving more and more lives every day.

I had a few hours of terror and trembling and crying. But through it all, with the help of my breast care surgeon, clinical trials staff and my AMAZING oncologist Dr. Dana Zakalik, I have learned that despite the “staging numbers” that sent me into a downward spiral with an expectation that the Grim Reaper was waiting outside the Examining Room door, I actually have a very good chance of long-term survival. I am a candidate for the PARP Inhibitor (Iniparib), which will be used in combination with two chemotherapy drugs: Gemcitabine and Carboplatin. Because Iniparib is still in the clinical trial phase, my name will be submitted into a national pool today. Names are drawn weekly, but at Royal Oak Beaumont, the 12 women who have needed this drug have all been able to get it through the pool, and the expectation is that it will also be available to me very soon.

I will sign the consent forms to partipate in this clinical trial before I go in for my lung biopsy this morning. That means that I will get in under the deadline for this week’s drawing and will hear back either Weds. or Thurs. as to whether or not my name has been drawn. If it has, I start the Iniparib next Tuesday. If not, I’ll be in the drawing each week until my name is selected. In the meantime, I will begin chemotherapy with the G & C drugs on Friday, and will also have a chemo port inserted Friday morning. I never thought I could say this about chemotherapy, but I cannot wait to get started.

Dr. Zakalik has explained to me that breast cancer is becoming less of a killer and more of a lifetime, manageable disease. I hope and pray I fall into the latter category. I truly have found peace in this overnight. I feel a peace that I am going to be OK, that I am going to survive this. Not a false hope, but a warm, emcompassing white light that comes from somewhere outside of me and shines into the depths of my soul.

Please pray for the negative result on the lung biopsy and that my name is chosen in this week’s Iniparib drawing.

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