Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Made it to FIVE!

Today marks five years since I finished chemo and determined this day would be my first day of no more cancer. It really isn't true though, it could still be lingering, floating around in a mutated cell somewhere just chillin', but for now it has not reared it's ugly head. I get to live.

I thought today would be different. That somehow it would come and I would wake up to balloons, confetti, and everyone standing around me saying, "YES! you made it!"

I woke up, there was nothing unusual about the room, just another day. Get up. Go for a walk with the dogs and Zipper the cat, of course. Drink my coffee.  Make my food. Shower. Get ready for work. All the same routine, but.....through all the routine, cancer was constantly on my mind and how blessed I am to be here, on this day, healthy, walking, running, playing, and living. Pretty freaking fantastic!

There is so much that happens in five years time and it is truly amazing to look back on it and say to myself, "Wow, I managed to get through that!" It is pretty incredible what our bodies can do for us and how important it is to take care of that body.

So what has cancer done for me?

1. It has caused me to ache, and I mean really ache, all over, all the time.

2. It has disfigured my body in ways that can never be forgotten due to the reflection in the mirror.

3. I deal with neuropathy constantly in my hands and feet, making daily functions difficult at times.

4. I gained alot of weight...alot of weight!

5. I have lymphedema that causes my right arm to swell and my hand to throb causing great pain.

6. My marriage has gone through a lot of turmoil and rough patches.

7. We have not been able to have children, something we both so desperately want. This one I still struggle with and it is very hard to be around those that bitch about being a parent, for we would give anything to deal with these struggles. I can also be very stand offish around new or pregnant moms because my sadness is real. I am still learning to deal with these emotions. But Jeremy and I have our pet family, nieces and nephews we absolutely adore, and all the other kids we interact with that we cherish. Not the same, but it is our life.

8. I have learned the mind is a powerful tool and it truly is mind over matter. If I dwell on the pain in my body, it never gets better. But if I consume myself with other things, my mind can temporarily keep me from the pain. I choose how it limits me, not the other way around.

9. If not for the silicone boobs and scars I may not be here today, so I am glad I have them. I get to live my life.

10. My marriage is stronger, and I appreciate it much more. I cannot imagine my life without Jeremy and I wouldn't have wanted anyone else by my side through all of it - doctors, surgery, chemo, late nights, ER visits, welts, screaming, crying, break downs, laughter, defeats and victories. He is my strength when I no longer have anymore to give.

11. My family is everything to me.......

12. I have met some awesome people, some real fighters that are no longer with us - Rodeo, I know you are surfing somewhere. These are my inspirations to continue to use my voice to remind people that life is short, and being unhappy in a situation is a choice, so make a different choice. Happiness matters.

13. I don't have control of everything.This is still a hard lesson, and I continue to preach this to myself. Control the things you can, but let go of those you can't.

14. I joined a gym, found a family. I get to surround myself with these wonderful people that push me to be stronger, faster, better, and ultimately happier. I have learned there are no actual limitations, just a bunch of "NOT YET's" and that is a great way of looking at things. If we constantly say, "I can't" then we are conditioning ourselves not to even try. But if I say to myself, "I can't do that YET," and continue to believe I can someday, then you have given yourself power to practice and try. Amazing what a few words can give you. And to think, I joined because someone took the time to listen to my struggles, and I stayed because someone took the time to believe in what I could do, and not what I couldn't. There is great power in people. I am truly thankful.

15. I am a SURVIVOR!

16. I am a great resource for others going through all of this. I want to be a resource. Ask me anything, nothing is off limits.

17. Chemo was so hard. Jeremy had to force me to my last appointment. I hated it, dreaded it, so awful. I look back now and cannot believe I did that and got so bald. I lived through it, I made it. I have learned that  I can do anything when I set my mind to it. If I can do chemo, then there is nothing my body can't do. Quitting is never an option.

18. I am reminded I get one body. And I choose what I feed it, how I take care of it, and how I function in it. I must treat it with care.

19. Attitude is everything!

There are still no balloons, confetti, or shouting, but it still is my five year anniversary. I know this isn't the end of worrying, anxiety, and doubt, but it is a milestone I am glad to have reached. I also know I don't do much of those things anymore, but there are lapses of feeling sorry for myself...I am only human. I will forever be grateful for what cancer has given me, even the bad, because I am pretty proud of where I have landed with all of this in five years time. Can't wait for the next five and what kinds of things I will learn from it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Over it.....again

I am so over it and hate that I am still dealing with the effects of chemotherapy. It is a small percentage that deal with this, and guess what....? pick me, please.

Why am I the lucky one that consistently has all of the side effects? I just want to get my body back, am working hard to get there and then WHAM!,hello neuropathy. 

And my neuropathy isn't just a numbing feeling, but rather a burning, tingling that starts in my feet and runs up my legs, causing great amounts of stinging pain. I don't dare stop in the group exercise class, tears falling, to walk out and hope it goes away....I don't want to be different, I don't what the "What's wrong?" or the looks of disappointment from others because, "What, you can't get through the workout?" And I would want to scream back,"YES I CAN!" I am not weak, just broken. Very broken.

I finished, paused a couple of times to let some of the stinging pass, but I finished. It becomes mind over matter at that point, fixated on the countdown, pushing through to the end. There is no quitting, there would be too many questions, no matter what. 

So, now I have two options as I sit here drinking my coffee and getting ready for work - take pills to get the burning under control or just suffer through. Both choices suck! The pills make you so drowsy and foggy that going to work and actually working becomes a lost cause. Suffering through is also miserable while my mind is fixated on the pain. Neither choice is viable, both choices are painful, and I hate drugs.

These are the days that I don't understand. Why me? why this? I wish it would end. These are the days that I have to believe in something higher, I am wanted here because there is some kind of master plan. Another demon to face, bigger than cancer. Possible? There has to be something. 

And that is my moment of self-pity. Do I feel better? Not yet, but I will. I sit here flanked on either side  Copper and Tikka, wondering why the tears and wanting attention.

And Gypsy, sitting on my belly purring away, oblivious to the circumstances surrounding my sadness. "Just pet me!" she screams.

They do make me feel loved, they need me to be around.

I am frustrated, angry, sad. I am allowed these moments. We all are. The bigger piece is, how will I move forward? foot in front of the other.

But, really, I am so over it!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Game Over........

I BLEEPING HATE CANCER!!!! It has taken so much from me - I have boobs that are more like knobs that just stick out from my chest. Yes, they are perky, but I would give anything to have my saggy, 39-year-old boobs back, along with the nipples I no longer have. Oh and at least I would have feeling and not dead skin.

My hands, arms, feet, and legs are constantly tingling and have a burning sensation that I have learned to live with, but secretly curse it all the time and scream inside to scare it away. It doesn't hear me.

My right arm and side swells so much when I do any activity, becoming so painful that I just want to stop. I try and will myself to push through it - sometimes I succeed and sometimes I give in.

My brain loses thoughts and words and sentences in conversation. I struggle with memory constantly. Not helpful in my working environment or outside.

I am mutilated inside and out.


Today was test number two and the numbers had to at least double from Friday. My blood work done and waited for the call later.

I knew instantly when I answered and heard my doctor's voice that it was over. Just from his hello I was going to throw up, and it took all I had in my being to keep it in and not vomit all over my desk and self.

I was told to call when I get my first period and we will set up an appointment to talk about what happened and other options. I just said OK, when I already know in my mind this was our only shot of having our very own children; there is no more money to try again.

I held it together. Grabbed my car keys, walked out of my office and took the long walk to my car to call Jeremy.

He knew almost instantly, and we sat there in silence while tears just kept falling. I had no words. He apologized he wasn't home and out of town for work til Thursday over and over. Secretly I wanted to beg him home, but that doesn't fix it. I said its OK.

And now cancer has taken my opportunity to have my very own children. I quit.


I am out walking the dogs and this awesome sadness hits me like a train wreck and I can't stop sobbing no matter how hard I try. My dogs have no idea what to do as I just collapse and sit on the sidewalk and sob. They lay down next me, comforting me in my sorrow.

I never really thought about children in such a concrete, realistic way. It was more of, eh, its ok, I don't want them,  it would cramp my lifestyle, I like coming and going as I we please. But once Jeremy and I decided to do this it all became more real. Then we passed the first blood test with a positive and it was reality, even though we knew it wasn't all in the clear. We talked about everything that we were going to do with them.

I realized on my walk, at that moment, the experiences are what I will miss....what we will miss.  I couldn't wait to teach them to shoot a rubber band without snapping their thumb; to skip a rock on the lake with such gracefulness and skill; to do a somersault; to create giggles from rolling down the hill; to appreciate everything and never take anything for granted; to celebrate successes; and to learn from failure, the most important. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

I want so badly to quit.....

Choices can be difficult.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Test Day

I was up at 3am today. Unfortunately the alarm was set for 6am....bummer

Blood test completed by 8:15am. And results please......we wait.


still waiting.....

do some crafting on a dresser for my brothers new baby to be. Jeremy, I and my sister are turning it into a dresser changing table. It turned out awesome! We are delivering it Sunday....can't wait....

and waiting some more....

oh, wait, phone ringing in my pocket. caller ID (I love caller ID) says Oregon Reproductive...ooh, ooh, ohh, Jeremy its them. Big breath, Hello?

We do all the pleasantries, hating it, just get to the point of the call. Finally, and, it is POSITIVE!

Tears instantly, Jeremy stoic as usual under his glasses, although I am sure his eyes watered up.


"Now, this is just the beginning and we do have more tests...blah, blah, blah"

All that is going through my mind is, it worked, my body did it, we did it, yeah! Don't steal my thunder, reality will still be there in 10 seconds once my moment is over - Running through a field of dandelions, smiling, singing....wait, OK I am back.

Next steps. Monday I will schedule another blood test. My magic number today is 17.32 and it should double about every other day, so on Monday it should be more than doubled because it will have been 3 days. Hmmmm, the math.....well it needs to be over 35.64 anyway. And then Wednesday I will take another blood test and guess what? oh, you got it, double again.

"OK, good-bye, will be there Monday!"

All the phone calls were made, texts sent, facebook posts done, adrenaline faded, exhausted......

I have so many wonderful people in my life that are supportive and encouraging, how could this fail? I have hope, and that is a good starting point.

More waiting.....

Until Monday.....Good night.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

And They're In

I stopped to get coffee today at one of my usual spots and ordered unusually, a small one with one shot. The gal I always see is there, she pauses and stares at me with no sound coming out of her mouth at first, dumbfounded by what I have ordered. Finally, asking how do you go from a 20oz quad shot to 8oz of one? What do I say?


Well, I believe we left off with...and there were four, but only two looked viable....oh, and.... I was terrified if there were none. And here is more of the story...

On the day of the transfer, I got the phone call from the embryologist. Only two looked like they would be good to go with a possibility of freezing one more, giving it would develop more in its little petrie dish. So as of then, there would be a transfer of two embryos. I was happy, but sad. Now I truly have one shot, and only one shot to get this right. Great odds, right?

Jeremy and I got to Oregon Reproductive way ahead of schedule and I did exactly what they asked - Empty your bladder one hour before your arrival and drink about 26oz of water casually. A full bladder is what they needed to make this transfer a success. Well, haha, my bladder was going to explode if I did not empty it by the time I got there. I walked back to my room in a hunch to alleviate the pain of my bladder screaming to keep it all in. I had to change into my gown, still with a full bladder. A difficult task without an accident, but oh yes, things would get harder.

My nurse was fantastic, loved her. She asked me if I wanted to empty my bladder....and I said, sure, thinking they would just make me lay there until my bladder filled back up. Oh no, she gave me a cup, about 12oz. This would be all I could empty from my bladder.

I gave her the dumbest look, wanted to laugh, but knew if I did, urine would be everywhere. Um....How do I stop the flow of urine, completely, after only 12oz emptied. And what if 12oz was all I had in there? She assured me it was possible.

I get to the bathroom, degown, wanting nothing in the way of this event, position myself to pee in the cup and mentally prepare to stop it once full. Ready, set, pee.

hahahahahahahahahaha, it is virtually impossible to know where to put the cup to pee in it when you have to go that bad. I missed....alot. Ok, time to stop, difficult. I must of sat there five minutes just to convince my muscles to "shut it off." No way, it worked, I stopped the flow. I was pretty proud of myself. But my bladder still felt ridiculously full and I went more than I can hold alot of pee. I wash up, gown up, wash up, proud of my accomplishment, and walk back to my room, telling Jeremy all about my big adventure as soon as I get back into bed. He laughed at me.

Back comes my nurse and she ultrasounds my bladder. But right then my doctor walks in and says I can empty a little more if I need to, she was hesitant, but he seemed sure. I took a new cup and prepared my plan in my head walking to the bathroom, I was going to do better this time.

Nope, same result, impossible, and took longer to shut it off. I felt much better, that is all that mattered.


And transfer time. My embryos are ready to go....

I am rolled into the room, Valium swallowed down, assume the position. There is no modesty in any of this and you really have to go to a different place to feel ok about the invasiveness of it all. At one point my nurse, doctor and embryologist were all in between my legs inserting the embryo, staring at the ultrasound to find the landing.

I wanted so badly to laugh out loud, thinking how does one get themselves to this point, seriously, this is funny. The things we will do.....

And we are done.

It is simply amazing how the body can be tricked into all of this to become pregnant. Truly amazing.

I drive home, stay in bed for 36 hours, bored to death, a lot of TV watched, and back to normal.


And wait.....10 days, first pregnancy test, can't wait. Tomorrow morning cannot come soon enough.


I might be pregnant is what I say. Might be.

Oh, and maybe I failed to mention - remember the lone embryo trying to grow in his dish? He didn't make it. Maybe it was a she. There are no more chances.

Tomorrow seems so far away.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Embryologist Calling

Today is a somewhat sad day.....or a little disappointing. 

I received a call from the embryologist to let me know how the thaw and fertilization was going. I started with 19 eggs harvested, 14 survived that were frozen. Of these 14, only 7 made the thaw, but 4 made the fertilization. But 2 are looking great at this point. She let me know this could change, we are not doing the transfer until Wednesday, and she will call me that morning to let me know where we are.

I just want to scream! I was hoping for better, but not really sure what better is. I have read all the stats for IVF procedures, I know it is less than ideal when it comes to success rates, I know it might not happen. But, really that doesn't matter. I am invested now, I am preparing for children, I want children. This want far outweighs reality, and telling me to keep a hold on my hopes isn't helpful. How is that even possible? 

I want this. Really, really, really. I want this with Jeremy. He will be the best dad ever and he deserves it, possibly even more than me. We want this. I am optimistic hopes are sky high, but.......what if we fail? What if I fail? 

The answer terrifies me.

Monday, November 18, 2013

We are Going for It!

It's a Monday, phone rings, I answer. 

"Hi Stephanie, this is Sara with Oregon Reproductive Medicine and you owe $360 to freeze and store your eggs for another year."

"Oh, um, I am going to have to call you back and talk to my husband to even see if we are going to use them." More pleasantries, I hang up.

I dial, music plays.....he answers...

"So, I need you to take a minute, step away from whatever you are doing for I need your undivided attention for this conversation."


I sighed, stammered, didn't know where to begin, I just start..."so I got a call from the egg place and we need to start paying for my egg freeze and store now. I don't want to pay it or hold on to them anymore if we are not going to use them, it seems dumb to waste the money. I know you have been on the fence about it because of what I have to do to my body to get there and the consequences that could happen. So, if you don't want to, I get it, but we need to have this discussion now and make a decision."

I was prepared for the long pause, the discussion points, and the indecisiveness. We have had this talk many times. Jeremy doesn't have any desire to be a single father. All the hormones could bring the cancer back starting the battle again and the possibility of losing the fight…..….Does having a baby outweigh this risk?

There was no pause, not even to breathe.

“Let’s do it.”

“What, are you sure, no discussion, just yes???”

“Yes, let’s do it.”

“OK, and the money, it isn’t cheap?”

“I don’t know, we’ll figure it out.”

We figured it out.....

We applied for and got approved for a personal loan the very next day.  We called Oregon Reproductive Medicine, to find out when we could start…. Appointment #1 scheduled - October 24th, 2013.

We still hadn’t really told anyone. Almost like we had to keep it all a secret or it might not happen, as if the thought of yes could somehow become no. Does that happen? The percentages are not great with IVF, about 60%, and with my age I am sure it may slough off a little more. I want to shout it, and post it, and let everyone know, but there are too many what-ifs at this point to know for sure, exactly if this is happening.

But, I wanted and needed to tell my mom our plan, our final decision, to go ahead with all of this and try. I wasn’t getting any younger and this is what Jeremy and I have wanted since the beginning. I show up at her house, “So mom, I have some news…..”

Instantly she says to me, “That is so great Steph,” the tears start, the hugs,”  I can try and help with the money, get it out of my retirement, I have a little bit in savings, I can give you some every month. I just wish I had it for you.”

I laughed at her and said we had it all figured out. But I appreciated her great willingness to help us.

You see, what is so amazing and wonderful about my mother is she doesn't have a lot but is always willing and wanting to help her children out, doing so with whatever means possible. She has always been this way, and is the true epitome of unconditional love, with never a string attached to her giving. I want to be that for my children. I could never repay my mom for all that she has done for me in my life, but she wouldn't want me to either, she does it because she loves me. I am pretty lucky….and appreciate her more than she could ever imagine.

It all was feeling a little more real, like this is really happening….but there were still so many unknowns that it wasn't quite set in stone.

Appointment #1, Dr. Bankowski. He goes over everything – the how’s, what’s, when’s, where’s, and more. We get our next appointment figured out, and lucky me, I am just now on day 3 of my cycle so all the tests can happen much faster. Yes, this is good, we don't want to think about it anymore, we just want to move on…..Back next week for my “practice run” of the egg transfer....nothing but nerves.

Mock transfer day. Yippee! It has to work great, it will work great, there will be no issues. I just feel it.

Let me tell you, here is the absolute worse part – You must show up with a FULL bladder. Ugh.

Well, when we get to our appointment, the first thing I want to do is head to the restroom but remember at the very last minute, ”NO, hold it!” So, I head on in to the waiting room and wait. Man my bladder is full.

I hear my name, get up, shuffle on over to the door. I get undressed, assume the position and we begin. All goes smoothly, no hiccups, the practice was a success! I will need acupuncture to help with blood flow in my right ovary leading up to and on the day of egg transfer, but that was the only pre-qualifier. This will help to get that ovary a little more motivated to pump. Let’s hope.

Jeremy and I also have some blood drawn for genetic testing to see if either of us carries the same recessive gene that we could pass on to our unborn baby. I guess when you are spending this kind of money the more information one can get, the better.

That first practice run and appointment = $1,275.00. Jeremy and I just looked at each other, took a deep breath and paid it. This is going to be expensive, and we knew it, but so worth it when we become pregnant. Nothing but positive thoughts.

Another Monday, phone rings, “hello?”

“Hi Stephanie, we have the results of your genetic tests, and neither of you carry any of the recessive genes we tested for, so all is fine.”

Dead silence, I sobbed.

I don’t know why I cried so much, maybe it is the relief of all the obstacles disappearing – the money, the transfer, the genetics – all of it perfect and paving a path to having a child of our own. It seems more real, it is really happening.

And now back to Monday, these could start to be great days. My cycle has started, it’s day 3 and I start on birth control pills to create a predictable body. I will take these until December 16th and stop, skipping the placebo pills in the pack, moving right on through to the next package. I have my calendar, all is set and if this works, I will have the transfer on January 15th and we could be pregnant.

With all the tests, the results are in, the funds are borrowed, we are ready. Wish us luck, pray, toss a penny in a fountain, cross your fingers, or whatever it is when you want to send some great positiveness to someone in need. We sure could use it. The success rate doesn’t lean itself to awesomeness, but we are giving it all we got and always could use your energy in willing this along.

We have just one more test….. two pink lines please?