Dark Clouds, Yes — But Don’t Overlook the Silver Lining

16 08 2011

Photo courtesy of: jittajack.blogspot.com

This is Week 2, Round 8 of chemo. That means I’ve now sat through 30 infusion days — and 120 total infusions — since chemo began Feb. 1, 2011.

Ugh. Yuck. Blech. Ewww. That’s how I feel after today’s chemo. I often have trouble with word retrieval in the hours following my infusions. My Chemo Buds notice this on Tuesdays — my hard chemo days — as the second infusion, Gemzar, makes me go pale and honestly, a little loopy. I sometimes slur my words and feel like a drunk who never had the pleasure of the cocktail — the chemo cocktail, yes, but not the Whiskey Sour that’s my standard order.

It feels like a bout of the flu coming on — headache, body aches, nausea. But I slept for a couple of hours this afternoon after I got home and it recharged me enough that I could eat a few slices of bread and a couple of peaches along with the antioxidant green tea that is super good for me and that I am drinking by the gallon daily. This little hiatis won’t last long — I need to hit the sack shortly. But first, some silver linings to share with you. A few of my favorites:

1. Support of Friends and Family. I keep waiting for chemo to be fun (I’m the eternal optimist), but so far, it’s disappointed me. I CAN say that it is really reassuring and supportive to have the many loving family and friends in my life who show up on time, drive me to chemo, sit there beside me, drive me home and tuck me into bed. Today, my Chemo Buddy was my bff Elaine Schultz. I enjoy the conversations with each of you and treasure you and your friendship. Not only that, studies PROVE that cancer survivors who are surrounded by a loving network of their peeps have much higher rates of long-term survival. Thank you.

2. Positive Test Results. My tumors have remained stable and/or shrunk every time since February that I’ve had a CT Scan. The latest one taken in the hospital mid-July showed the same results. That’s a LOT to be happy about!

If that isn’t enough, the way I FEEL is! The coughing linked to the tumors in my lungs stopped two months after chemo began; three months later, Don noticed that my stamina had dramatically improved, and honestly, I am feeling terrific. People have been noticing — people who haven’t seen me in two or three months. They’re surprised.

“You look really good,” they say.

I shrug it off and say, “Maybe it’s the tan?”

I mean, that seems like a reasonable explanation.

Nope. They’ve already taken that into account and they are sure I look better, healthier than just two or three months ago. Waaahhoooo!!!!!!!!

3. Amazing Blood Counts! This is a biggie. For the first time in many, many months, my blood counts were SO good today that I don’t have to do those awful, painful Neupogen (white blood cell booster shots) this round! They are worse than chemo, as I’ve said many a time. Very painful side effects in my bones (think rib bones that THROB) that last for 24 hours per shot, and the regimen calls for five days of shots. So, hooray for a small victory that is actually quite BIG!

My doctor attributed it partially to my changeover to a more healthy diet. It’s a slow but sure process, but I’ve already whacked most of the refined white sugar from my diet — replacing it with natural Blue Agave (available at most health food stores and quite good) that does not cause blood insulin levels to spike. I’ve got to keep my glycemic index in check. (For more on the glycemic index and cancer fighting foods, etc., see David Schreiber’s book, Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life. I can’t recommend it highly enough.)

I’m also eating tons of fresh peaches now in season from our local orchard, raw veggies, whole grains, tomatoes and fresh green beans (raw) from my garden, and EEEK! I ate a mushroom yesterday. For those of you who know me, I’ve had a lifelong hate-relationship with mushrooms. They are one of the only foods I cannot stand to eat.


But they are extremely beneficial cancer fighters — lots and lots of great, healthy properties. So, I’m gonna find a way to get them down. Eww. Ick. My close friend and Theo’s godfather Ken Bagnall tried to lessen the pain of my palate yesterday by covering a raw mushroom in spinach dip.

Still yuck. I nearly hurled. I compare it as being on equal footing with the one time I ate a huge, garlic and butter sauted escargot. That was 20 years ago and I swear, I need to bring it up in a counseling session sometime.

4. Back on Track. It is a victory in and of itself that I was finally able to get through a full round — four sessions — of chemo after all these weeks. I’d been off since the end of June due to low blood counts and the infection that hospitalized me. I am so grateful that I am back on my regimen. That really is a silver lining!

5. The End of Chemo is Near. Nope. I’m not holding out on you. I still don’t know when the end of chemo will come. No one but God knows that. But I do know that getting back on schedule means that I’mmmm bacccckkkk and heading in the right direction, AKA The Finish Line.

Let’s get this chemo thing over and done with ASAP so I can return to my regularly-scheduled life, shall we?

Copyright 2011 Amy Rauch Neilson

When the Sky’s Not the Limit

10 03 2011

Team Amy NASA, waving our bracelets in the air in front of Launch Pad 39A. Photo by Brian Drilling, NASA engineer and tour guide extraordinaire!

Lots of great guesses yesterday as to where I was — and many of them buzzed the tower.

Indeed, we spent the day at NASA — the Kennedy Space Center. But it was far from just a day. It was extraordinary in every way.

Had I dreamed up and then choreographed the perfect day, I couldn’t have done any better than this.

We were NASA guests on a VIP tour — a tour so rare that several of the NASA employees who went along for the ride had never had this opportunity in their two decades of employment with the KSC. Wow.

And the way it happened. So effortless. Pure magic and pixie dust.

A few weeks back, Laura Scott from the KSC found my blog and subscribed. It was a series of coincidences — I call them “God-incidences” — all happening in perfect sequence, that brought us to yesterday.

Laura is a long-time member of Better Investing, the company where my writing career began two decades ago and where I still work as a contract writer/editor. My coworkers and the members of Better Investing are like family to me. Someone posted my recent diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer on a listserv. Laura saw it.

She and members of her team at the KSC posted a beautiful, uplifting comment to my blog. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I incorporated the message and a beautiful out-of-this-world picture into my next blog post. (See post, 2/9/2011.)

Laura and I started chatting online and felt a mutual connection. “I’ll be just a little south of you in early March,” I told her. “Maybe we could drive up to the KSC. I’d love to meet you.”

One thing led to another and my story, my blog, made its way up the flagpole of NASA communications. I was invited to tour the KSC as a VIP. We’d have our own special bus. A 12-seater. I was welcome to invite guests.

It all came together like clockwork. I invited my sisters, of course, and then it hit me. I have two friends, Helene and Bert Rabinowitz, who winter in the West Palm area. And, my close friend from college, Lisa Stark Watson, her husband, Greg, and son, Zachary, live near Ft. Lauderdale. I extended the invitation. Everyone was able to rearrange schedules and drive up on the morning of March 9. Synchronicity.

What we were going to have the opportunity to see had already knocked the wind out of me. The Space Station Processing Facility. The Orbiter Processing Facility, where we stood beneath the Shuttle Atlantis. The Vehicle Assembly Building, where we viewed the Shuttle Endeavor and where the latest Transformers movie — due out this summer — was filmed. Shuttle Launch Pad 39A, where Apollo 11 blasted off for the Moon more than four decades ago, and from which the Discovery Shuttle had launched mere days before. A tour led by Debra Kral of NASA, whose knowledge and enthusiasm was not only fascinating, but mind-blowing.

But then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.

A couple of days before our tour, I got word that the Shuttle Discovery had been scheduled to land March 9. The date had been in flux; Discovery was originally supposed to land a few days earlier.

I couldn’t believe it. Not only would we have the privilege of seeing the most complex, miraculous inner workings of the KSC and the entire, decades-long space program, but we were going to see history in the making — the final landing of the Shuttle Discovery.

The weather was perfect as we turned our eyes skyward, waiting for the Sonic Boom, and then the emergence of the Discovery. There it was, high above the clouds, gently gliding toward Planet Earth like a pure white dove.

Sometimes, no matter how big your imagination, how far-reaching, there are things that happen in this world that come together with such precision, such perfect timing, that they can only be explained as God’s fingerprint, part of His amazing handiwork. Moments when you know to the depth of your soul that the sky is not the limit.

Yesterday was filled with those moments.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

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