Monday, February 4, 2013

plans to prosper

So, it's been 3 years since my last blog post and this post-cancer trip pic in Harbour Island.  As I read through all of old posts, I came across a comment from Johanna in response to my sob story that all of my friends had babies and I just had cancer. It said the following: 

pshhht who wants kids anyway??? killing cancer is way easier than raising kids (or so i hear). Besides, thelionchasersguidetoraisingchildren.blogspot was already taken.

Well, I looked it up and it's available. So, for a split second, I thought about changing it...but, aside from it being an obnoxiously long name, I don't really have any parental advice to offer. 

Joey and I didn't quite wait the 2 years the doctor recommended before trying to have a baby. In August of 2010 we found out that I was pregnant. We were elated. I waited for morning sickness to come but it never did. I felt great. Everyone told me, you've been through so deserve to have an easy pregnancy. I started to believe it...I do deserve an easy pregnancy. But 10 weeks in, things started to not feel right and we went in for a ultrasound. I told myself that it was all going to be fine and we sat in the waiting room with all the other pregnant women. I loved being in there...being one of "them."  We were called in and we sat there waiting for the ultrasound technician. Joey made light of the situation and said how he was so excited. The tech came in the room and I watched her face as she performed the sonogram. It had no emotion. I knew it was bad. She turned the screen towards us and said there was no heartbeat. The baby had stopped forming.  I just sat there in shock. How could this be happening to us?  Hadn't we been through enough?  I began to sob. The midwife came in and I heard something about how common this is and how it doesn't mean anything is wrong with me or that it will affect the ability to get pregnant in the future. She was really sweet and soft spoken, but I couldn't focus. They scheduled a D&C and we left. The women in the waiting room who were my kindred moms-to-be just moments before were now strangers who watched the puffy eyed girl leave. They all knew why. 

Depression set in...I had wanted this for so long but now my joy was gone. I couldn't figure out how to be happy again. I laid in bed for a week after the procedure and then went back to work. I just went through the motions. There was no meaning in my job.  I poured everything I had into my work and I started to question if the stress played an impact on the health of my baby.  My company which once had a passion for improving lives had now possessed the same mentality as a used car dealership. My passion was slowly being drained from my body and after standing my ground for my team and my members one too many times, I was let go.  I felt so betrayed by people I once respected, but ultimately the greed of companies stifle the passion.

After the initial shock wore off, I started to feel as if a weight had been lifted. I had been given a get out of jail free card...and in three months, we found out that I was pregnant again. We decided that we wanted to go live a stress free life during my pregnancy, so we packed up and moved to south florida where we have been for almost two years. 

 I am happy to report, to those who might've lost touch or don't know me but follow this blog, that I am now a mom to the most amazing little girl, Hadley Brooke, who just turned 1 last week.  She is the love of my life and Joey and I can't believe that she's ours. My heart aches from being so full.  I guess shutting down my ovaries during chemo paid off afterall.
I decided that even though I'm done killing my cancer, I'm not done helping others do it, so the blog name will remain the same for now.  I ended up back on my blog tonight because an old friend just found out that after 12 years of being "cured" from Leukemia, it's back. I heard the news and have felt sick to my stomach the entire night. I can't imagine having to go through everything all over again...with having children. But, I have learned all too often that life doesn't go as planned. God's plan is greater than ours and it's when we realize that, we can let His peace course through our veins...and that is more powerful than chemo.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  -Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009, i bid thee adieu

everyone told me not to do it, but i just couldn't help myself. today was the last weekday i had to myself before returning back to work this coming monday. i was warned that i would cry, and if that was the case, i wanted to get it in before the new year. i thought it fitting to leave all the tears behind in 2009. so, with bailey cuddled up with me, i watched the dreaded Marley and Me.

cry, i did. bailey climbed up on me and laid on my chest with his head cocked to the side, his ears back, and his eyes intently staring at me. he laid there licking my tears while i watched marley grow old. then of course, like everyone else in the world, i thought about my dog and how sad it will be to see him get old and someday die. bailey was my comfort this year. day after day, he would lay beside me on chemo weeks as if he had undergone treatment as well. his demeanor mirrored mine. if i stayed in bed all day, so did he. neither toys nor treaties interested him. he just wanted to be sick with his momma. and sick we were. then when i got my energy back, so did he and we lived a normal week until the next treatment day arrived. on chemo days, he would watch me get ready in the morning and he would shake as if he knew it was coming. he was empathy personified.

i never really thought about growing old until this year. after 6 months of chemo, i felt as if i had aged 10 years. i'm making strides to reduce that number, but it's been a slow process. aging made me think about joey getting older, which made me more sad than watching marley. then yesterday i was leaving cvs, i walked out behind an old man with a cane who was slowly shuffling outside. i got in my car and thought about my dad who is going to be 60 next year...and i sat there and cried, thinking about my dad shuffling someday. so, i called him and made sure he would do everything in his power to keep from shuffling. thankfully my dad is in better shape than most 30 year olds, so he won't have too much work cut out for him.

gosh, this blog is depressing...

as i look back over this year, i can only be honest and say i'm glad it's over...but i'm also glad it happened. every bit of it...the bad with the good. i went through a refining process and smoothed out my rough edges in the fire. apparently, i am too stubborn and headstrong to change on my own. oh, i'm still uptight and cranky at times...and can be a little demanding if i don't catch myself, so i try asking joey to take out the garbage instead of telling him :) i also realize what's truly important in life. now, more than ever, i make an effort to focus on the positive...even when it seems grim or hopeless. a good attitude and a bad attitude are merely 2 different ways of looking at the same situation. negativity is a trait that should be illegal and i'm doing my best to eliminate it from my life and anywhere near it.

my point is that i'm only bringing positive thoughts into 2010. joey and i thank God every night for the events of this year. we pray that we don't ever take life for granted and we make the most of what we have been given. we strive to be an example to others and live a blameless life.

so, i don't know what 2010 will bring, but i do know that i'm ready for it. i'm ready to start my days with purpose and end them with accomplishments.
forget new years resolutions...i have a new lease on life.

the more trying the times the more positive you must be. you must adapt to change, and condition yourself to see it as an opportunity to improve yourself, not as a window to failure. -rick pitino

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rachel Morrison, CA

post-nominal letters, also called post-nominal initials or post-nominal titles, are letters placed after the name of a person to indicate that the individual holds a position, educational degree, accreditation, office, or honour. an individual may use several different sets of post-nominal letters. the order in which these are listed after a name is based on the order of precedence and category of the order. I'm pretty sure that "CA" qualifies as an honour and I'm pretty sure it's going on my business card. Rachel Morrison, Cancer Assassin.

my PET/CT scan showed great results, although it took my doctors a while to convince me of that. my cancer was pretty much gone. although the tumors may not ever completely disappear, the cancer seems to have. i say seems to because they cannot be 100% completely certain. the core of the larger tumors don't receive oxygen and therefore are not sensitive to chemo, microscopic activity doesn't necessarily show up on the scan, and cancer cells are supposed to light up in the scan but apparently so do bone marrow sites...hence my need to be convinced. in addition, due to the "bulkiness" of my cancer, i am high risk for recurrence. radiation was pretty much inevitable.

i had my "mapping" session where they scan and xray and re-scan to make sure they pinpoint the exact targets to nuke. they had out all sorts of pens and markers which they drew all over me. i was then given four little tattoos that just look like freckles...but they are tattoos nonetheless and i officially now have six. after the mapping session, they gave me a bunch of alcohol pads to wipe the marker off where they had drawn. when i looked in the mirror, i saw that they had drawn, what appeared to me, the state of florida on my chest. i'm gonna take it as a sign and book a flight to miami.

the outer banks was our most recent stop on the tour. we spent an entire week at the beach where we saw wild horses, hung out with great friends, and celebrated being done with chemo. it felt so good to not have to go into the cancer center, not even to get my labs drawn. a whole consecutive week of life without cancer.

bailey experienced the ocean for the first time. he chased sea gulls and ran into the waves...really, he jumped over them, seeing as they were a massive 4 inches high...which is pretty much the equivalent of a tsunami to a real dog.

since the outer banks, we have taken a break from the tour. other than going to long island or to virginia to my parents' house, we've just been staying local. seth taught us how to play with his air soft guns. the last time we visited, he let joey and i just shoot at him from the 2nd floor balcony. this time, i was cancer free and fair game. seth is an amazing shooter and needless to say, i sustained multiple shots to my backside as i tried to retreat to the house to take cover. getting shot with those things hurt like hell and i have the welts to prove it. seth, you better watch out. i'm coming back for revenge...and this time i'm bringing full body armor.

chemo/fat detox began the monday after we got back from the outer banks. it was 6 weeks of NO meat, dairy, white flour, sugar, fried foods, processed foods, etc....on top of that, i did pilates 2x a week, yoga 2x a week, circuit training once a week, and cardio 5x per week. getting back into my workouts was extremely hard and i was disgusted at my level of fitness. i realized that my body had aged 10 years over the past 6 months and it was going to take a lot more effort and dedication than i had anticipated. it finally hit me why so many people give up...because it's freakin' hard! by the end of the week, i am beyond exhausted and tempted to join the quitters. but, i know that i can't. chemo was my job for 6 months and now getting healthy and back in shape is my new job.
on friday night, we celebrated the end of chemo/fat detox with lindsey (who is doing the detox with me) and john at bistro du coin in dupont. i had forgotten that cheese could taste so good. we decided to take the weekend off and by sunday, i couldn't wait to be back on the regimen. so, yesterday kicked off phase 2 of the defatification which will go six more weeks. it's amazing how good you can feel when you eat healthy and exercise. i read this in a Fitness Rx magazine the other day and think it's worth passing along: "66 percent of women are overweight and most will remain that way b/c
they don't have the willpower or knowledge to lose bodyfat. That's understandable because we live in a no-fault society that makes it easy not to take responsibility for anything. Its painless to blame cellulite and an expanding dress size on genetics, time restraints, stress, family, or recent pregnancy. Excess fat is not inevitable-millions of women face challenges, yet manage to stay/get lean and fit." i am using this quote to hopefully inspire anyone out there who could use a little push and encouragement. anyone can do just have to commit. my internal motto is that there's no such thing as "trying" just have to do it.

i can't believe that it's almost november. this year has truly been the most bizarre time in my life. i have to stop and think "what day is today" ...and i don't mean date, i mean day. i wake up and think, is today yoga or pilates? radiation is everyday at 2.30, so i just try to keep track of when saturday is coming, that way i don't show up to radiation when they're closed. my hair, without gel, is starting to resemble the jew-fro. my body is covered in scars. chemo ruined my skin and i can't even wash my clothes in normal detergent anymore without breaking out into a full body rash (learned that one the hard way). my vision is blurry. my lung capacity is diminished. my body is still in menopause. yes, it's been quite the year. but, i have learned more during this year than most do in a lifetime. and i have 2 post-nominal letters to add after my name...ohhh....AND the yanks are going to the world series!! it doesn't get much better than that.

In this crazy world, there's an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they're never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom. - Henri Nouwen

Friday, August 28, 2009

one battle down

i'm exhausted. i go to sleep exhausted and wake up exhausted. the past 6 months have posed some of the most difficult days of my life. the physical constraints have taken a toll on my body and mind alike. the tough part is was not succumbing to it. don't get me wrong, there were countless days spent creating a mold of myself on the couch and even a handful of days crying behind closed doors. but the majority were spent treating this as a job. not every job is going to be enjoyable, but most are challenging. this was one that i knew i had to put all my focus and energy into it in order to get through it and keep my sanity. i took each day one at a time and it has finally paid off. two days ago, i received my last chemo treatment. i'm not yet ready to celebrate, but i anticipate getting my strength and energy back soon.

we had our 2nd annual robbins, etc family reunion at brooke's house earlier this month. as usual, it was great to get our entire family together over chef brooke's amazing food creations. no, i do not possess that same ability or passion for cooking, so don't even ask. the entire weekend was spent with family and we had such an amazing time. joey and i have come to realize the extreme importance of family and want to ensure that we instill that value into our someday children.

my cousin, david, gave us seasons 1 and 2 of the show 24 to watch. yes, i know we're 7 seasons behind, but it has really helped kill time on the days when i'm implanted on the couch. i will admit then when i looked out the window last saturday and noticed that it was pouring, i couldn't help but be excited that i could finish watching season 2...and with a good excuse. it was raining...stop judging me :) along with my obsession with the show, comes my need to speak in their lingo. when joey questions me about something, i respond by saying, "we're running out of time, there's no time to explain. you're gonna have to trust me." jack bauer and ctu are now just a normal part of our vocabulary. we have even thought of spending the day interrogating each other just to see how much we can handle and who will crack first.

no matter how many people are in your support system, cancer can be a very lonely experience at times. no one can ever fully understand the extent of the situation, no matter how they try. unfortunately, some relationships have faded during these hard times, which has really made me sad... but new ones have formed and current ones blossomed. we look for inspiration wherever we can get it...which can sometimes come from other cancer patients. i have heard through people that this blog has helped to inspire others and that makes me thankful. that said, i want to give a shoutout to theresa from massachusetts who is currently battling cancer. keep a positive outlook and it will do wonders for your body and mind. you are in our thoughts and prayers.

i extended my visit in ny to experience the new home of the Yankees...ahhhh and what an experience. the stadium is amazing and the feeling that you get when you walk in matches it. tara, meg, and i crashed the boys trip. but i have cancer and it was a great time to throw that card out there. you can love the yankees or hate them, but you have to appreciate the passion of the fans...and anyone who leaves a comment saying otherwise, i will be forced to remove it...even you, joey!

josh and seth spent a few days with me while joey was in san diego for work. we went to trapeze school and then crushed some crabs for dinner. they drove up to long island with me and we had a blast. it was only the last 30 minutes or so that they started getting restless and flicking each other in their ears. we had an awesome time.

leaving the cancer center on wednesday was bittersweet. we met some amazing people like my nurses, theresa and kissen...and my chemo buddy, brian, whose veins suck the chemo down faster than mine and i can't seem to beat him. i'm not bitter or anything...the competitive spirit doesn't stop just because i have cancer :) they are great people and i'm so thankful to have met them all. we also left with a dozen georgetown cupcakes which are about as close to heaven on earth that you can get. my fat/chemo detox starts this monday, but i'm sure we won't have a problem polishing them off by then.

so, chemo is over. what an amazing feeling. my pet/ct scan is on monday, sept 14th and then i get the results on sept 21st to determine if i will need radiation. but regardless...chemo is OVER!!

I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious. -vince lombardi

Friday, July 31, 2009

recycling our pain

it doesn't get any better than soaring through the sky hanging by your knees. trapeze school. who would've thought. i went on a good day, gave it my all, and felt like i got hit by a truck when i woke up the next day...but, in a good way. what an amazing experience. this is the first of many classes, so let me know if you wanna come with next won't regret it. i'm taking my little brother, seth, and my nephew, josh, this coming week...and it's gonna be awesome. i've also recruited my chemo nurses, theresa and kissen, to come...can't wait!

wednesday was my 10th chemo treatment. i have 2 more to go. i thought it would never end and now it's finally almost here. my doctor is leaning towards radiation because the main tumor in my chest cavity was quite large and they want to ensure that i don't have a recurrence. the plan is to get a PET/CT scan (yes, this is the one that i have to drink all that nasty liquid and then try not to pee my pants...don't think i'm above wearing an adult diaper) the week of september 14th and then meet with my doctor and the radiology oncologist the following week. they will then decide whether or not we move forward with radiation. the risks include the possibility of damage to my heart and lungs, so there's a lot to consider. radiation usually lasts 3-5 weeks and is everyday, but i don't think the side effects are like chemo. i think it just causes extreme fatigue and skin irritation. i'm completely at peace with radiation because i never want to go through chemo ever again. i felt amazing yesterday and now today, not so much. as much as i try to figure out a pattern, one never seems to form. i'm definitely ready to feel normal again.

"kill bad stuff" is my new baby. lindsey and i officially have a bigtime pro-bono lawyer and are on our way to becoming a non-profit corporation...soon to be "kill bad stuff, inc." we placed our first order of tank tops, men's, women's, and kid's tshirts...along with water bottles, car magnets, reusable grocery bags, pens, etc... we are constantly coming up with new designs, but because we are a non-profit, we are pinching our few pennies that we have. the website should be ready to take orders in about a week or so. it feels so amazing to do something that will encourage cancer patients to take a positive approach to their battle...and all the proceeds will go to helping those patients in financial need. we still haven't decided which charity our proceeds should go to, suggestions welcome. we are looking for one that specifically helps cancer patients and their families pay co-pays, deductibles, and other medical expenses. our goal is to create a contagious attitude and passion for life, no matter what obstacles we may face...and have fun while doing so.

our most recent stop on the kill cancer summer tour '09 brought us to Lake Norman, which is about 20 minutes outside of Charlotte, NC. We hung out with great friends, JoJo and Stephen, and experienced a beautiful part of the country...we even extended our trip a day. thanks guys for an amazing weekend!!

i have to take a time out right now to discuss something very near and dear to my heart, something i live with everyday, and something i am extremely disgusted with...chemo brain. if you think i'm making it up, google it. i had to write about it right now or i would forget. months back, i asked my nurse, theresa, if stupid was a side effect of chemo. turns out it is. i have issues with speaking because it's hard for me to get my words out properly, i forget what i'm saying mid-sentence, as well as forgetting everything in general. i have never had to write down things in my life. now, i don't know anything that's going on if it's not written down. the fun part is that i get to open my calendar and see what's on tap each day...not always a good surprise. i don't remember to call people back, i don't remember who i told what to, and i certainly can't remember if i've blogged about chemo brain before or not. it can last up until a year after treatment, thank God it's just temporary...but, it's official. i'm stupid.

kristin and i went to see billy joel/elton john at the Nats stadium where we had amazing seats on the field...and belted out all of billy's songs like good long island girls should.

we also had tim, vanessa, and baby makayla come visit from long island. they have an amazing story of love, generosity, and patience. vanessa donated her kidney to tim shortly after they were married. after many years of trying to have a baby and several rounds of in vitro, makayla joy finally arrived. i know every parent is in love with their child, but the look on tim's face when he looks at his baby girl is priceless. they have taught me about patience. joey and tim golfed while us girls got pedicures and caught up on life. we know it wasn't easy to travel with a new baby, but it meant the world to us.

i've been up for five hours now...trying to convince myself to drink the 48 oz of water sitting in front of me. i drink about 120 oz everyday and yet my cotton mouth never seems to go away. i could really use a nap right about now, but the steroids have me wired. not a fun combination. i won't get into any gross details, but it's funny how excited you can get over some things. it's crazy that this is my life when i really stop and think about it. i don't diminish cancer in the least. i call mine the "easy cancer" because i know how my story ends. i don't worry about the future, upcoming treatments, getting sick, or the possibility of dying...and yet i know that reality is all too evident in other cancer patients' lives. my heart truly goes out to them. just 2 days ago, jay's father, who had cancer and some heart problems, passed away. joey and jay grew up on the same block on the eastside of seattle most of their lives. i can't even begin to comprehend the pain that he must be feeling right now.

too often we take life for granted. we aren't owed a long prosperous life with a happy ending. we have to take what we get and make the most of it. that's easy to say coming from the girl with the "easy cancer," but i truly believe it.

No one rolls out the red carpet and invites tragedy into their life, but our greatest gifts and passions are often the byproduct of our worst tragedies and failures. Trials have a way of helping us rediscover our purpose in life. -Mark Batterson

Friday, July 3, 2009

do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life

no matter what kind of cancer you have, death always will cross your mind. i am certainly not scared of dying, but i can't help but think what my legacy would be. it doesn't help that i have all the time in the world to sit and think on chemo weeks. but, it's good for me. it causes me to reflect on the kind of wife/friend/relative that i am and the one i strive to be. i want to make a lasting impression when i'm gone. this isn't me getting all morbid either, i know i'm not dying for a looooong time. i just realized that it's not enough for me to just be yet another person on this earth who lives for their own selfish gain. i want to make a difference. if i just get married, work, have kids, and die when i'm 90, i won't have lived up to my potential. yes, i can make a difference in my everyday life, but that's not enough...not for me. Colleen Wolak is a perfect example of this. so is Kristin Hodulick. both of their lives have been impacted by friends and relatives who have/had cancer. they are constantly doing fundraisers and running marathons to raise tens of thousands of dollars to help those who are suffering. i certainly don't think that's for everyone, but it's their thing and they make a difference...and it's inspiring.

so, i'm gonna get on a soap box for a second and say that the "woe is me" attitude is just plain sickening. no where is it written that life is it fair that i got cancer? sure, it is. why should cancer discriminate? cuz i'm young? please! it's way better to get cancer when you're young. It's easier to fight and it changes your entire outlook on life. plus, look at all the experiences we've been accumulating. joey and i went to Charleston, Savannah, Isle of Palms...and before that trip, we even went to the ballet at the Kennedy center (big one for joey). i am trying new okra instead of french fries and a whole grouper with the bones still in it. we took carriage rides around the town, listened to locals sing and dance down on the pier...and of course i got it on video:

okay, rant over. back to cancer update for a moment. i've been having some issues with my breathing so they took me off the "B" of my ABVD treatment. "B" is the bleomycin that can cause lung hardening. i had a second pulmonary function test which showed a decrease in my DLCO, which is the ability to take oxygen and exchange it for carbon dioxide. so, the bleo is being left out. i have lots of marathons to run when this cancer crap is, better safe, than sorry. my red blood count has also been slowly and steadily declining, which just means that i'm slowly becoming anemic.....which really just means i'm getting more and more tired. i can deal with tired as long as i get my 2 mile run in first and if i can't run, then i'll walk, and if i can't walk, i just watch Fit TV and kill calories by osmosis.

my doctor told joey and i that i need to be in remission for 2 years before we can try to have babies. i originally shrugged that off until my nurse, theresa, agreed with him. she said that i probably don't want a baby with three heads. but maybe i would be like having triplets but with only one college tuition. okay, so maybe i'm using humor to mask the fact that i don't wanna wait two years. but since when is any of this about what i want? so, i'm changing my mindset. what can i accomplish in the next two years or so? well, for starters, i am starting a business with my friend Lindsey who has been there since the beginning. we are going to empower and inspire cancer patients and their friends and families with our "kill cancer" gear. we are taking a proactive approach. no whining about how cancer sucks...we are just gonna help kill it. so, check out our website: Lindsey also started giving me my injections lately which i think she enjoys waaay too much.

will running marathons for charity be my legacy? will my company? who knows. i do know, however, that i have the ability to choose my attitude and outlook and that leaves a lasting impression. the following is an email that i received from my nurse, theresa, who just so happens to go to our church...

" I had to say goodbye to a beloved patient. I hate that part. I will see his obit soon. Rachel- one day I will see you as a cancer free girl and I am grateful, joyful and praising Jesus for that. One day we will see each other at the clinic for hello's and not chemo. I will see you at church being a cancer free momma in waiting. That is really cool. I write this because I started reading Lion Chaser and I am inspired to love you cancer people more! I am blessed to meet some awesome people and I count you and Joe among the really cool.

...thanks for the gifts, tee shirts, coffee (medicinal syrup), hand soap, smiles, laugh, blog, looking forward to seeing you moments. Thanks, you are too good to me and I appreciated it. Thanks for being Rachel the Lion Chaser and inviting me to join in your kill cancer journey!"

if only they didn't weigh you, poison you, and harpoon you with huge needles at the cancer center, i would thoroughly enjoy going to visit my nurses. "kissen" and theresa always make me laugh and getting an email like that one just makes my day. every action of every day makes a difference. i am going to live my life with no regrets and certainly no self-pity. everyday uncovers yet another redeeming aspect of cancer. if only everyone could be so lucky.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, June 8, 2009

they got kids, i got cancer

i'm sad. maybe it's just the rain. i tried to convince myself. no, i'm definitely sad. i was sitting in my friend vanessa's living room at 7am reading my "crazy sexy cancer" book. i love going back home to long island and visiting friends and family. but this time was just a little tough. everyone's lives are moving forward while mine is at a standstill. they all have babies. i have cancer.

brooke was prepping the kids before my arrival, letting them know that aunt rae rae doesn't have any hair. abby asked her if it was because of the cancer and brooke told her yes. abby said, "poor aunt rae rae," then took a moment to process that piece of information and asked, "does she still have her dog?" she was quite relieved to learn that cancer had not taken bailey from me.

my niece meagan is my little clone. she looks and acts just like me when i was her age.

she is also my biggest advocate. we sat together during church with our matching "kill cancer" tattoos. i gave her a handful of extras for when hers faded off her arm and she left for sunday school with them in her pocket. mid-service, she's back asking for more. it turns out that she asked the teacher if she could make an announcement...oh, and that she needed to stand while doing so. she then proceeded to point out her shirt and explain that "TR" meant Team Rachel and that everyone should go visit the website. she gave each kid a tattoo. after church, meg brought each of her friends to see me. no introduction or anything...she brought them over purely to look at me.

i love being around my nieces and nephew's so refreshing. they tell it like it is. within minutes of arriving at brooke's house,
meg said, "aunt rae rae?" yes, meg. "i miss your hair." me too, meg.

i am actually starting to really miss my hair. for some odd reason i was thinking that it would be back after chemo was done. i forgot to calculate the time for growth. i find myself doing things to make myself look more girly, like painting my fingernails hot pink. bad move. johanna likes to remind me how much i spent on a wig that i don't wear.
i think i'll start utilizing it more. i'm sick of looking like a fat army offense to anyone who is fat or in the army or a lesbo.

speaking of jo jo...she's coming to visit me this weekend and man, am i excited. i usually have her color my hair when i see her. good thing she is also a licensed massage therapist. totally gonna pull the cancer card.

my CT scan results show that only 50 percent of the cancer still remaining. everyone seems elated except for me. 50% gone at the halfway mark sounds like the norm to me. i don't wanna be the norm. i used to cry if i got an A- and didn't get a B until high school. my cancer should be at least 75% gone at the halfway mark. in my delusional mind, i had killed all the cancer, but just had to finish up the chemo...kinda like a round of antibiotics. i don't think i have a 3/4 of the way scan, but if i do, i better ace it.

there was no sadness this weekend when joey and i celebrated our 5 year anniversary. not every couple gets cemented together through trials faced in marriage and in life. the absence of babies and presence of cancer has opened our eyes to the kind of spouses we need to be and family we wish to have. i think we will do a better job at both because of it. in the meantime, we are collecting memories with our Kill Cancer Summer Tour '09. we are visiting as many people and places as possible on the off-chemo weeks and hosting any and all visitors when we are home. if you aren't yet on the tour, you are clearly lacking special talents like cooking, aren't licensed in accupuncture, or simply live somewhere boring ;)

Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life. -mark batterson

Monday, May 18, 2009

it's not about the treadmill

it's still a shock to catch a glimpse of my reflection with this head of hair, or rather lack of. last week when i was getting my labs done, my favorite nurse, teresa, said to me "when you first shaved your head you looked like GI jane, but now you're just bald." thank God i appreciate honesty and she is totally right. my face is almost as white as my scalp which has never even seen the light of day. i fixed that problem yesterday. a friend will tell u that you still look great when you're pale as a ghost. a true friend will include bottle of spray tan with your birthday present. thank you, johanna. and when people notice a streak or two that i didn't rub in, they won't think that i'm an idiot who can't apply tanning spray, but rather look at my head and realize that i'm just a chemo patient who isn't allowed to go out in the sun and play like normal children.

don't get me wrong, i'm not looking for sympathy, but i did realize that i haven't used the "cancer card" enough to my advantage. so, the other day i was driving and this girl, around my age, refused to let me over into her lane. it was deliberate. i am not, however, one of those people who get road rage. instead, i like to smile or do something nice which usually just pisses them off even more. so, she pulls up next to me and i just give her this look that says, "really? i mean, seriously? you're not gonna let the cancer girl over?"

there's really nothing wrong with using the cancer card. i don't use it often, but i do keep it in my back pocket just so that it's close when i need it. and i only use it for good, not for my own selfish gain. this is my guide to killing cancer and the cancer card needs to be discussed. it is very powerful and should only be used for good...and maybe the occasional bump to first class.

the true key to killing cancer is the surrounding support. this must be achieved prior to the diagnosis. apparently, i must have done this because everyday i feel more blessed. i'll start with the company where i am employed. even strangers on the street will ask me if my work is "being cool" with everything. when i tell them how amazing they have been, they always respond in awe and ask who i work for. I tell them "Sport & Health" and then give them a pass so they can go try it out :)

friends and co-workers have blown my mind with the time and effort they have put into all this cancer killing. they are still recovering from all the hours clocked working out in april. the Team Rachel shirts look amazing and i'm even getting my own bracelet like lance armstrong. i promise not to go all hollywood like him, don't worry. if i write a book, however, this will be the title. and then there was the happy hour this past friday night. we had over 30 people come out and that didn't include the rest of the patrons who were there. the silent auction was a huge success and a good time was had by all.

it's definitely harder for the friends and family who don't live by us, but the support is still clearly evident. when your friend has a baby and 2 days later texts you "how are you feeling," you know you're loved. shoutout to little derek jr.

and then there's my joey. i didn't think it was possible to get any closer to him or love him anymore than i did. but i certainly do. he is my rock. when i'm lying on the couch wanting to die, he always asks "what can i do to make you feel better?" and when i say there is nothing, he goes and cleans the apartment because he says he knows that always makes me feel better. he is always putting me first no matter what and never complains or even show any signs of fatigue. last week we were laying in bed and the interview with farrah fawcett's boyfriend came on the tv. he was saying that he had never loved her more than he did now and that he didn't know what he was going to do without her when she dies. now, joey and i have talked about the type of cancer i have and that 85% of all those with it not only survive, but are cured. we both believe that in the end i will be cured. but, when he heard that interview, joey broke down and started sobbing. and then of course i started sobbing. he said that hearing those words just hit home with him and that he couldn't live without me. he then made me promise that i wouldn't die. i made that promise. i know that i am not going to die from this cancer. i cannot, however, promise that joey won't kill me for telling this story.

can i kill cancer on my own? absolutely. i can't imagine how hard that would be and i certainly wouldn't want to try it. i know there are days that i don't want to see or talk to anyone, but i also know that my support is still there. that is what makes the road on this journey more feasible for travel. i'm gonna be the most tan cancer patient on that road.

" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' " Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, April 30, 2009

bald is the new black

capacity via adversity

it's true...i've been slacking. i know it's bad when "starbucks rich" mentions to joey that i haven't updated my blog. the truth is that round 3 was a little tougher than the first two and i just wasn't feeling inspired to write. here's how it works: every other wednesday, we go to the cancer center where they feed "Fox" her liquid lunch which takes about 3-4 hours. we then go home and i climb into bed, as to not jossle around the kerosene-filled stomach. it's then a crap shoot for the next 6 days. the nausea, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and body aches are a given. it's the little daily surprises that keep it fun, like the cellulitis that developed in my vein, the rash that appeared on both arms and magically went away within 10 minutes (two consecutive days), and the sudden loss of vision and sound on any given moment when my blood pressure is too low and my hot flash temperature is too high.

speaking of hot flashes...i just want to take a moment and apologize to all the women who have or are going through menopause. i'll admit that i've rolled my eyes when you were fanning yourself or thought "cry me a river" when you complained about your hot flashes. but i am here to tell the world that hot flashes are no laughing matter. one second you're feeling fine and the next it's like you're being cooked from the inside out. pools of sweat form in a nanosecond and you feel as if you can fry an egg on your body. the doctor thought it best that we force my body into a menopause by shutting down my ovaries. this will give us a better chance at having kids after this whole ordeal is over. so, every month i get an injection into my belly that even the nurses are squeamish of giving because it's the "longest and thickest needle we have." you know it's bad when she says "i'm sorry, baby" as she injects you.

i always used to threaten to shave my head. i never actually believed i would until i did two weeks ago. even then, i was in shock. apparently i thought covering my eyes would help the process, but unlike a gruesome scene on tv, it wasn't all over when i removed my hands. it came after a long weekend of slowly losing about half my head of hair. it was a monday morning and i took bailey to the vet. i wore a hat to ensure my hair would stay put. i started getting really hot but didn't want to take my hat off in fear that all my hair would come off with it. so, after losing my vision and hearing and all the strenth in my legs, i sat down and thought for sure an ambulance would have to be called. thankfully, joey came to my rescue, took me home and gave me a haircut to match his own.

i have heard other female cancer patients say that losing their hair was the one of the toughest aspects of the entire ordeal. was it easy? definitely not. but it was kind of like ripping off a bandaid. don't get me wrong, it's still disheartening to wake up in the morning to see my now short hair all over my pillow. i got a dog that doesn't shed for a reason and now i'm running a lint brush over the couch so our friends don't leave with my hair on their clothes. i may look like GI Jane now, but what will i look like when the rest falls out and my forehead never ends. my ears also get cold pretty easily now and i have to cover my head with a blanket of its own. but it turns out that my head is a lot smaller than i would have thought. that was a pleasant surprise.

so, it's not the adversity that breaks us. it's really how we view it, and ultimately how we decide to portray it. cancer happens. financial hardship happens. heartbreak happens. the beauty is that we get to choose our attitude during these trials. *"if you don't have any problems, you don't have any potential. here's why. your ability to help others heal is limited to where you've been wounded." i had a few rough days that i certainly did not enjoy. the side effects were just a little more heightened than the prior two treatments. but, i knew that after those 6 days, i would get to enjoy a full week of feeling great before my next treatment. the day i feel the best is always the day right before treatment, which just so happens to be my birthday this time. coincidence? maybe. i choose to believe that it's not.

"He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:29-31

*taken from the book: "In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day" by Mark Batterson

Friday, April 10, 2009

say hello to my little friend

well, chemo round #2 happened two days ago (rachel: 2, cancer: 0). it went much better than the first time thanks to my little alien baby that was implanted on tuesday. no more burning arm and i have both hands free to read my "who needs hair" book I got from my new 80 year old friend, Nonnie, who too has cancer. they also switched out one of my anti-nausea drugs via IV due to a rare side effect that i had last infusion. good news is that i shouldn't get that headache i had last time, bad news is that this drug only lasts 24 hrs as opposed to the other one which lasted 5 days. it's been about 40 hours and so far so good. i'm mentally tougher than that ;)

i decided that cancer in itself isn't all that's what comes after the diagnosis. all the doctor's visits, the xrays, CT scans, PET scans, surgical biopsy, bone marrow biopsy, echocardiogram, pulmonary function test, and now my new friend i just got put in my chest. i haven't named her yet, but it will be something i will share because i like, suggestions welcomed.

the tests are just cruel...take the PET scan. they make you drink 2 huge bottles of watered down sugary milky crap and then make you lie still for 30 minutes in a small tube where all you think about is how much you have to pee. and don't let them fool you, because even when you motion for the tech to come into the room because you are gonna pee all over their multi-million dollar machine...she will ignore you, because there's no way she's gonna stop the scan. plus she knows there's no way a 28 year old is gonna pee her pants. i'll show her next time!

the bone marrow biopsy was not fun either, but it's just pain...i can handle that. it's not like a small bladder where it can all flow out...clearly i'm just still bitter. but they can only numb you so deep, so the doctor says, "this will hurt...just think good thoughts...and don't move because we don't wanna have to do this twice." there's no way i'm moving now...and yet my body starts to move. but, i realize i'm not moving my's the hollowed out screwdriver stuck in my back that is moving me. good times. i did get to see the bone marrow in the specimen cup. totally worth it.

cancer changes everything. i have no stress. doctor's orders and i willingly abide. it helps that i am married to the world's greatest husband who has made every step of the way so easy on me. everyone is so nice. a friend pointed out how life would be so different if we all treated each other like we had cancer. so true. i now look for the hidden meaning in things...7 days after my first treatment, i woke up in the middle of the night in the worst bone pain i've ever felt. it was as if i jumped off a building and landed straight-legged and jarred my entire body. it was 3am and lay awake for an hour while joey held me and i cried. i just kept repeating in my head, "rejoice in your suffering, rejoice in your suffering."

but when you don't have any stress, you can handle the steroids waking you up at 4am, water tasting like metal, food lacking all taste whatsoever, wearing a surgical mask on a plane, accumulating scars all over your body (7 and counting), watching your hair come out in your hands...because it just drives you to persevere even more.

the support from friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers has been amazing. is spreading like wildfire and is so exciting to see the effort that has gone into it and the generosity that will come out of it. joey and i have decided that along with donating the remaining money to a charity, we want to help out others who we have met in the treatment center who need assistance with their co-pays and deductibles. this fundraiser is going to truly change lives...and we will all look pretty darn good doing it in our team rachel gear :)

so, even though my new friend is causing me some pain and discomfort after being implanted under my skin, i like her. she is just giving me more character...and who couldn't use a little more of that. so, when we come up with a name, don't forget to say hi to her as well.

"we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts" romans 5:3-5

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Diagnosis: heartburn or cancer?

I now realize why they wouldn't tell me the possible side effects of chemo...not just because everyone is different, but because anything is possible. I don't think you can prepare yourself if the doctor were to say, "On day 4, you will wake up feeling like someone ran over your skull with a Mac truck and shattered it to pieces." I can't blame that one on the chemo, though...that's just a side effect of the Neulasta, an injection given the day after chemo. It prevents infection and boosts white blood cells...and makes you feel like complete and total crap.

I'll never forget the day I said, "I eat healthy and could I have heartburn? I'm gonna be so pissed if that's what this is." It was the week of February 10, 2009, a mere 7 weeks ago. I thought I was gonna have to give up my Starbucks which wasn't an option. I tried Rolaids and even Prilosec, thinking that would maybe help the pain in my chest. The following week, I went to see the closest doctor to my house. If I chose to see the Physician's Asst, I would get in faster. No brainer. She said it's probably gastro-related, but gave me an EKG and orders to get blood work and a chest xray. I made the earliest appointment on Friday for the chest xray. My chest was feeling a little better that morning and I thought to myself, "this is such a waste of time...I should just go straight to work."

Xray led to a CT scan which showed a 4.6 x 7 x 9 centimeter tumor next to my left lung. I would later name her something I can't write here, cuz my mom will get mad :) The report from the CT scan said the tumor was most likely a teratoma or a thymoma. If you've ever watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know what a teratoma's the "twin" she had in her neck... I would've never lived that one down!

March 3rd was the surgical biopsy. They put 2 incisions, collapsed my left lung, and got a sample of the tumor. The whole thing lasted about 3 hours. I spent 2 days in ICU and one more in a private room. My roommate violently puked all day and night. I just laid there thankful I wasn't her. Being weak and helpless was a brand new experience and after peeing in the bedpan twice the day of my surgery, I decided that was enough. With the help of my 24 year old nurse, I made it to the toilet and then stood there while she sponged me down and changed my sheets and gown. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. After being out of bed for about 15 minutes, I felt like I had run a marathon and couldn't get back into bed fast enough. This was my first experience in a hospital and although I hope it is my last, it was a positive one. Five stars for George Washington University Hospital.

March 9th changed everything. My surgeon called and said I have cancer. I was shocked. I was convinced that the tumor would be benign and I would have a second surgery to remove it, have a big scar, long recovery, and that would be that. Not so.

It's now March 31st. My life has turned upside down. I haven't worked in 29 days and I haven't worked out in 44 days. For those who really know me, you know that those are two pretty major things in my life...two things I thrive on. Everything happens for a reason and I truly believe that. I'm excited to find out the reason I got cancer. I bet it will be good.

I'm a Lion Chaser. I like challenges. Heartburn would've been too easy.

Too many of us pray as if God's primary objective is to keep us from having fear and getting scared. But the goal of life is not the elimination of fear. The goal is to muster the moral courage to CHASE LIONS!