28 March, 2012

I had my second dose of chemotherapy on Tuesday of last week.  Afterwards, I had a couple days of feeling just icky and nauseated.  I started feeling a little better on Friday.  I decided to take a shower and, as I began to wash out the shampoo, my hair started coming out in fistfuls.  It seemed like something out of a horror movie.  And I'll admit, I broke down and started to cry.  Everyone had told me I would lose my hair, but nothing prepared me for the reality of it.  It was a bit traumatic.  Luckily, I have (or had) really, really thick hair.  After six days of what seems like an endless amount of hair falling out, my head is still pretty covered, although much, much thinner than normal.  I don't know how many more days I'll have hair and at the rate it's falling out, I'm surprised I still have any!  Anyways, once I'm a baldy, I'll be sure to post some photos.

I felt a little better over the weekend, so on Saturday, we went to two different wig stores and I bought a wig.  It looks pretty similar to my normal hair, so that should be good.  I kind of want to get another one thats a little more fun because I might as well take advantage of the opportunity, but for now I will wait and see how things work out with the one I have.

I had my blood levels checked on Monday and guess what!  I'm neutropenic again!  So I have to be really cautious to make sure I don't pick up any germs, because my body doesn't have the ability to fight against them.  I had to get a shot of neupogen yesterday, which encourages my bones to make more white blood cells.  Can we just think about that for a second... does anybody else think it's insane that the insides of our bones make blood?  And blood fights germs so we don't get sick?!  That just crazy!!  I am learning so much about the human body from this whole ordeal and the more I learn, the more amazed I am.  Our bodies are so complex!  Even though the side effects are no fun at all, as I learn about them and see the way my body reacts to different things, I am in awe of the brilliancy of our Creator.  

Today, our very own supply of neupogen came in the mail.  This means instead of having to drive to the Moore's Cancer Center for every single shot, which puts me into contact with a lot of sick people, my Mom can give me the shots at home.  I know it's for the best, but I'm not too excited about it.  Every shot hurts, but the neupogen gets injected over three minutes and it stings like crazy as it goes into my arm and for about fifteen minutes afterwards!  I love my Mom and am glad she has a background in nursing with a lot of experience giving shots, but I can guarantee you I am not going to like her when it comes time for my shot.  It's nothing personal; it just hurts!

Anyways, please be praying that these neupogen shots are working and my white blood cell count gets back up to normal!  And thanks again for all the support, prayers, cards and gifts!  I'll have to do an entire post showing you all the wonderful presents people have given me!  You all truly amaze me with your generosity and kindness!


"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word."
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

20 March, 2012

Happy first day of spring!!  I hope you had an opportunity to enjoy some sunshine outdoors today!

So there's good news and bad news... The good news is, my white blood cell count is back up!  The bad news is, I didn't get chemo yesterday, but instead spent all day in the Emergency Room.  Here's what happened...  I woke up in the middle of the night on Sunday night/Monday morning and had a sharp, stabbing pain on the left side of my stomach.  The pain then spread to a constant dull pain on the entire left side of my abdomen, back, and shoulders.  I had been told that the neupogen shots I'd been receiving could cause my spleen to swell and to call a doctor immediately if I had any symptoms.  So, at 3:00am, I called the emergency on-call oncologist.  The operator told me he would have the oncologist paged and I would receive a call back within the hour.  An hour and fifteen minutes later, I called again and told the operator I still had not received a call.  He said he had already paged the doctor when I called before, but that he would page him again and I would receive a call within an hour.  So far, it's been more than 40 hours and we still haven't received a call from him.

I waited until morning and called my nurse case manager as soon as she got in to work.  She told me to go to the emergency room and have everything checked out, just in case.  So that is exactly what I did.  In the ER, I had my blood drawn, x-rays of my chest, and a CT scan.  My x-rays and CT scan came back all good!  And my blood came back good too.  I might have been a little misinformed in my last blog post, so hopefully I can explain this accurately now.  Neutropenia is measured by a person's ANC (Absolute Neutrophil Count), which is approximately 70% of my white blood cell count.  So just a little recap, in order to be healthy enough to start chemo, my ANC needs to be above 1500.  Anything below 1000 is considered neutropenic.  Last Thursday, my ANC was 100.  On Friday, it was down to 91, which my nurse said is the lowest ANC he has ever seen!  On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each I received a shot of neupogen to help my body boost its white blood cell production.  On Saturday, my ANC was a little bit higher at 210.  And when they checked in the ER on Monday, I was at 12,700!!!

So this is my theory... The neupogen worked really well for me, maybe even a little too well.  Your spleen, which is part of the lymphatic system, works to regulate the amount of blood and blood cells that circulate through the body, and helps destroy damaged cells.  So, I think that when my body started producing more white blood cells in reaction to the neupogen, the rapid spike in my ANC made my spleen a little swollen, which is what caused the pain.  Now this is only my own theory.  The doctor in the ER said that was a possible explanation, but there's no way to tell exactly what caused the pain.  All he knew was that my tests came back looking great, so I was free to go!

By that time, it was too late for me to go over to the infusion center to start my chemotherapy.  So I went this morning instead.  It took about six hours again this time, but it seemed much shorter than that because we started an hour earlier and because I slept for almost half of it.  The nurse gives me benadryl as a pre-med to my chemo and it knocks me out every time! :)

As we were leaving Moore's Cancer Center, where I get all of my treatment, and walking to the car, I stepped out into the sunlight and immediately felt pins and needles all around my mouth and nose.  I got to the car and sat in the shade and the feeling slowly went away.  I have no idea what that was all about!  But here's my theory on this reaction... The doctors and nurses are slowly trying to turn me into a vampire.  They sure have been taking a lot of my blood, and giving me drugs to produce more of it!  And now I can't go out into the sun?!

Anyways, I have a ton of questions about everything!  Does this mean I will probably be severely neutropenic after every dose of chemo?  Will I always have a week and a half between chemo now?  Or will I always have chemo on Tuesdays? What should I do if I have an urgent issue and the on-call doctor never calls me back?  Why did my face feel like needles in the sunlight?  Are you trying to turn me into a vampire?  Ok, so maybe I'm just kidding on that last question, but I truly could go on and on with legitimate ones.  You probably don't need to hear all my questions, though.  Luckily, I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow so I will have the opportunity to ask her everything!

Please just keep me in your prayers!  Specifically this week, I ask for prayer that my side effects would be minimal and I would have no pain at all!  Thank you all for your continued letters, gifts, prayers, love and support!  I wouldn't be able to get through this hardship without you!


16 March, 2012

I felt a million times better this week!  I even felt well enough to have coffee with my friend Danielle, who was visiting San Diego on her spring break from Mission Year in Houston!
Danielle and I
My doctor wanted to see me because of all the problems I had last week, so I met with her yesterday morning.  It was really beneficial because we were able to go over every side effect I had and discuss ways to prevent them or deal with them in the future.

Every Thursday, I have my blood drawn, just to check to make sure all my levels are good.  So, after my appointment with my doctor, I had my blood drawn.  About a half hour after we got home, the lab technician called and said I have neutropenia, which means my white blood count is low.  It's quite common for people who are getting my type of chemo because the drugs have such a big impact on the body.  Basically, your white blood cells help to fight infection.  So right now, I don't feel sick, but I am much more susceptible to picking up a little virus.  And if I do get sick, my body won't have the power to fight against it.  So today, instead of having my second dose of chemotherapy as scheduled, I had my white blood count checked again.  In order to be healthy enough for chemo, my white blood cell count needs to be over 1500.  Anything less than 1000 is considered neutropenia.  Yesterday, my count was 100 and this morning, it was a measly 91.  So I received a shot of neupogen, which works to boost my white blood cell production.  I'll get a neupogen shot on Saturday and Sunday as well, and return Monday to have my white blood cell count checked again.  Hopefully, the neupogen will do its job and I'll have enough white blood cells to have my chemotherapy treatment on Monday.

Please pray for me, that I won't get sick during this time and that my white blood cell count would rebound back to normal.  And, like always, I would like to thank everyone for all your support!

Beautiful flowers from my pastor, his wife,
and the entire staff at our church

13 March, 2012

I am happy to report that I am feeling much, much better!  Thanks so much for all of your prayers!

"But now thus says the Lord,
He who created you, O Jacob;
He who formed you, O Israel:
do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire,
you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...
because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you."
- Isaiah 43:1-5

10 March, 2012

To be completely honest, this has been the worst week of my life!  I knew chemotherapy would be rough and side effects were to be expected, but I had no idea I would have so many of them!  I started feeling nauseous last weekend, which my medications have controlled fairly well.  Then on Monday, I started to have a mouth infection.  My whole mouth felt like pins and needles and the pain was all-consuming.  Thankfully, I got a different medication for that and today my mouth feels 90% back to normal.  On Wednesday, my entire digestive system decided it wanted to shut down.  The result is that every muscle in my body has cramped up and it's extremely painful!  Yesterday, my nurse gave me three different medications to help with the problem -- two are pills and one is a powder that I dissolve in liquid and then drink.  I took the pills and then, after drinking three sips of the liquid, threw up.  I tried all last night to drink it, but couldn't keep anything down.  I was able to drink a little bit of it today, but am still all backed up and having really bad cramps.  And then to top it all off, I got a nose bleed this morning.

A week after I have chemo is when I'm at my nadir, the low point in my health when I am most weak and my blood count is at its lowest.  After that, my health begins to build itself back up and should be almost back to normal two weeks after the chemo, just in time for my next dose.  So hopefully I will start feeling better any day now!  But I hate to complain about all of this, so let's talk about a few good things!

I haven't lost my hair yet, so that's great!  I'm hoping it will stay for a few more weeks, but we'll see.

Also, my brother came down to visit for a couple days.  It's been really good to spend some time with him and to have someone home with me during the day.  On Friday night, Kevin and my Dad went out and bought the board game Settler's of Catan and we all played it for the very first time.  I am so thankful that we were able to spend some time as the whole family and just sit around and play a board game.

We have been researching all sorts of ways to stay healthy during chemotherapy, but everything we've found has been quite controversial.  The one thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that the best way for my body to absorb the most nutrients from fruits and veggies is to juice them.  So, needless to say, I was quite excited when our brand new juicer came in the mail this week!  The combination of my itchy tongue and crampy stomach has made it really difficult for me to eat anything, so the ability to drink lots and lots of fresh juice has been wonderful!  We've been juicing every night and having a lot of fun trying new fruit and veggie combinations!

Everyone has been so supportive!  I've been getting letters and emails from so many different people and I have really appreciated it!  One person who messaged me is Shea Doyle, an old friend from elementary school.  She let me know that she is running the San Diego Rock n Roll half marathon on June 3rd, and that all of her fundraising goes directly to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is working specifically to find a cure for Hodgkin's Disease and other forms of blood cancer.  Honestly, it is because of this organization that my cancer has such a high treatment rate and excellent prognosis!  And it is because of people like Shea that their research and work is possible!  So I really hope you'll consider supporting her and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by donating to her! You can donate by clicking on this link, and I will put a permanent link on the right side of my blog, just in case you want to donate more later :)

Thanks for keeping me in your prayers!  And thanks for listening to me vent about the ups and downs of life with cancer!


03 March, 2012

I started my first round of chemotherapy yesterday.  So far this entire time, I haven't felt too bad.  I was sad and a bit emotional to leave everyone in Atlanta, but physically I have felt fine -- just a little more nauseous and tired than usual, but not too bad.  Since that was all I felt, I didn't really get what the big deal was.  So when I went to the infusion center and sat down in that big green chair for the first time, it finally hit me... oh my gosh, I actually have cancer!!  I really am sick!

The actual infusion wasn't all that bad, just a bit long.  First, my nurse, named Sinead, numbed the area around my port, then hooked up the needle.  Thankfully, I didn't feel a thing!  I started with a half hour of saline, then I had a little test of one of the chemo drugs, just to check to see if I might have an allergic reaction, which I didn't!  Then they gave me all sorts of pre-meds, like tylenol, benadryl, an antiemetic (to prevent nausea), and a bunch of other stuff.  Luckily, the benadryl knocked me right out and I slept for about an hour.  It took awhile to get all that stuff out of the way before beginning the actual chemo regimen, which surprisingly only took about two hours.  My treatment is called the ABVD regimen, an acronym for the different drugs prescribed, and the most common (if not only) regimen for Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  The "A" only took about fifteen minutes and the "B" about twenty.  The "V" was really short and only took a minute or two, and last but not least, the "D" took an hour.  After that was all finished, they flushed my port clean and filled it with some anti-clotting medicine, unplugged me, then sent me home with more pills than I can count!  I have to get one of those big pill boxes that grandmas and grandpas have, with places for morning pills and evening pills for the entire week.  Overall, my mom and I were there for about five or six hours!

Sinead and I having fun with chemo!

As soon as I got home, I laid down on the couch and started watching TV.  Before even half of my show was over, I fell asleep.  When I woke up, I began feeling really nauseous.  The doctors and nurses had warned me to take nausea very seriously because if my body associates chemo with nausea the first time, I will most likely have to deal with nausea every time I have chemo!  So I took one of the medications they had given me.  It didn't work.  Then I took another one of the medications they had given me.  It didn't work either!  After about two and a half hours of feeling really sick, we phoned the on-call doctor.  He told me to try one of them again.  I also asked him if I could take some of the anti-nausea medication I had left over from my surgery in the beginning of February, and he said yes.  Luckily, I had some left over, because that stuff really worked!! I've been feeling a little nauseous today, but not nearly as much as yesterday, so that's good!

Every person reacts differently to chemo.  And a person can react differently to every single round of chemo, so it's hard to predict how I may or may not feel from all of this.  Not all people have alopecia as a symptom (where all your hair falls out), but all of my nurses said that I'm really likely to have all my hair fall out because of the specific type of chemo I am having.  So in preparation, I got my hair cut shorter today and went to look at some wigs!  It's kind of exciting because I can try all sorts of new styles, and I have always secretly wondered what it's like to be bald!

At the wig store... It was kind of hard to picture what I would actually look like, because they didn't have any in my color.  I didn't end up liking any of them, but ordered a cute one from a catalog they had.  So it'll be fun to go try it on later this week!  We then ventured to the hair salon for a short cut! I just figured it will be less traumatic if my hair is already short instead of pulling out long clumps of hair.  And what do you know, I really like my new cut!  It feels really light and easy and I anticipate will be really good throughout this transition!

and after!
I don't think these pictures do it justice...

Anyways, enough hair talk!  I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for all of your love and encouragement throughout this time in my life!! Not a day goes by that I don't get a kind email, text, or letter from someone, and it truly does brighten my day! So thanks! I love you all!!


01 March, 2012

I met with my oncologist today and received all of my test results.  It turns out, I'm extremely healthy! ...well, except for having cancer.  The important results we were waiting for was from the bone marrow test.  It came back all clear, which is good because it means I have stage II lymphoma instead of stage IV! Praise the Lord!  

Now that all my testing is done, I'm ready to start treatment!  I have the option of if I want to have four cycles of chemo, or two cycles of chemo plus some radiation.  I'm leaning toward doing all chemo and, if that's the case, I'll go in for treatment every other Friday for the next four months.  I'm also scheduled to have my blood drawn every Thursday, just so they can make sure everything is going smoothly.  I'll be starting my first round of chemotherapy tomorrow!  I'm a little nervous because the treatment is probably going to make me feel icky, but the sooner I get it all over with, the better!  It will probably last for four or five hours, or a little longer tomorrow because it's my first time.  So I'm looking forward to catching up on some reading and movies during the treatment.

Please just keep me in your prayers, that the side effects won't be too unbearable, and that the treatment would truly work and destroy the cancer cells.


In the doctor's office
"Bless the Lord, oh my soul;
and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, oh my soul,
and forget not all His benefits:
He forgives all my iniquities,
He heals all my diseases,
He redeems my life from destruction,
He crowns me with loving kindness and tender mercies,
He satisfies my mouth with good things so that my youth is renewed."
-  Psalm 103:1-5