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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Breathe

A small glimpse of my weekly steps towards beating cancer:

Chemo went very well this week. Done quickly and painlessly for the most part. I even had a little tea party with today's visitor ❤🍵


All these bags. Just for me. *deep breath*
💉
Only 10 more chemotherapy infusions to go!


And then...


After chemo, I spent an hour in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. My integrative oncologist has recommended this therapy to compliment my chemo infusions. *breathe in, breathe out* Pure oxygen filling my lungs and aiding the healing process. 

"Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is currently being utilized in conjunction with conventional treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy, to attain optimal dosages for patients, stimulate tumor regression and reduce the side effects of treatments. Cancer thrives in hypoxic or low-oxygen environments and HBOT has been shown to increase these oxygen levels to weaken tumors and reduce their aggressiveness. Studies have demonstrated the benefits of HBOT for cancer with the following:

Enhance "Conventional" Cancer Therapies & Treatments: increases oxygen levels in tumors, better radiation therapy results, improves chemotherapy outcome, enhances brain treatment, decreases tumor drug resistance, allows for optimal therapy dosage to be attained, improves surgical results" [More info on HBOTherapy I received, please visit their website at http://www.curesauna.com/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy/] 

Additionally, I am going to this same location, Cure Sauna, for my infrared sauna sessions, also recommended by my wonderful integrative oncologist. These high temp sessions help my body to sweat out toxins, improve cell health, and aid in relaxation, stabilizing blood pressure, and pain reduction.

I started physical therapy earlier this month with the lymphadema specialist. She is helping to loosen up the tightness across my chest, increase my range of motion in my affected arm, and reduce risk of lymphadema. This consists of deep tissue massage across my chest, low-light laser treatment along my scar tissue, stretches, and hooking me up to a lymphatic pump once a well to help my lymph system work properly. I'm particularly interested in reducing the tightness so that my reconstructive surgeries next year will go smoothly. 

After seeing a naturopath last month, I shared the intensive dietary restrictions that were added to my already strict diet. Since my diagnosis in May, I had been doing very well with a cancer fighting diet geared towards keeping me as healthy as possible during treatment, namely chemo. My integrative oncologist had approved of my research and resulting diet, made a few tweaks and encouraged me to continue. She also approved of me having a naturopath on my care team. Neither of us anticipated that he would run extensive food allergen panels 2 days AFTER a round of chemo. Needless to say, we will not be using this information and find that it is likely highly inaccurate. An expensive but valuable lesson, to be sure. *sigh* I am now back on the previous eating plan and, at the request of several of you, I'll write that out in detail soon. Meanwhile, a big thank you to all that have brought meals and shared organic produce with us. It sure helps take the burden of cooking off of Charlie especially 😊  

For those of you that have contributed to our donation fund to help with medical expenses, a large portion has gone to my integrative oncologist and these recommeded therapies (only my medical oncologist and my physical therapist are covered by my insurance). It's also covered genetic testing that helped me avoid unnecessary treatments and helped customize my care plan to the ones best suited to fight my particular cancer in my particular body. I can't say thank you enough!!

One last thought...
Next month is well known as Breast Cancer Awareness month. Very soon you'll start seeing a lot of pink ribbons and silly slogans meant to inform the general public. Your favorite stores and brands and even coffee stands will sell millions of dollars worth of products while advertising that a portion of those dollars will go towards finding a cure. I'd like to encourage you to really consider if that's what's happening the next time you see pink. 
Thank you!
💖 Tika

Letting go

Running, resting, tired, sleeping...awake.
Hungry, fasting, nausea, tastes...funny.
Happy, content, lonely, hurt....overjoyed.

Every day, my head is spinning. I don't know what to expect next...so I'm letting it go. All the expectations I've put on myself and others...no more. I wish I'd done this sooner, before sharing my heartache last week...and hurting those that have been here for me. I'm so sorry. I'm still figuring this out. I've never done this before. I don't know what is supposed to look like. I don't know how I'm supposed to feel or act. Please forgive me. I wasn't trying to be selfish. I'm trying not to fail. I'm struggling with asking for help when I don't know what I need. It's even harder to let you help me when you ask how you can. I'm so used to being The Doer...the planner, the organizer. But I'm trying...

For those that took the message to heart and thanked me for the reminder, I'm so glad you did. I'm even more thankful for the resulting visits with you. ❤

This is such a weird journey, much different than I expected. My body is changing even more now. My fingernails are grossly discolored but I'm afraid to paint them and not see the progression. I have "stains" on the palms off my hands and soles of my feet. My skin is dry and itchy. My scars on my chest are healed on the outside but the tightness feels like I'm wearing an impossible corset. I'm being thrown into early menopause. Hot flashes and all that.  That might also explain my emotional and mental instability, right? Or maybe it's the chemicals coursing through my veins...my brain...every cell of my body. Can I have a time out yet? My sweat feels disgusting...like my pores are weeping slime. My nose feels like it's filled with glue. My eyes are sealed shut when I wake up. Eww...just ewww.

This is weird.
This is hard.
But God is good...all the time.

I have been reminded of that over and over again this week as I'm learning to be thankful in the midst of it all. Thanks for bearing with me and praying.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Raw ramblings of an insomniac

Sweet conversations with 2 dear friends this week offered me words of wisdom I had not considered but ought to share:

One said, for those that are "well connected" (like our family, with our church, homeschool, and other acquaintances within the community we serve) it would be easy to think that there are plenty of folks stepping forward and helping us through this difficult time. Oddly enough, it's pretty quiet around here. Very quiet. My heartbroken message that I shared the other day got me ONE phone call. One. And a couple of texts. Ouch! It really made me wonder if that's the kind of friend I am.
Am I?? Am I assuming someone else will step in? Am I mistakenly thinking someone else will heed the call for help? Do I even pray about it?

Another friend asked if prior to my diagnosis was I the one to initiate getting together. Well, yes actually, it seems I'm ALWAYS planning something. The suggestion was that just because my circumstances have changed, it's unlikely that the people will. And that I should call them up and invite them like I've always done. I just can't do that right now...For eight years, I served the homeschool community by planning field trips, classes, and hosted monthly gatherings for moms. I've given numerous rides over the years to kids of single moms, working moms, and plenty of others too,  just because I had room for them in my car and didn't want them to be excluded when I could simply help out. I don't share all this to "toot our own horn" but to share how much our lives have changed. We've served on school boards and organized ski school and other events. As a family, we have served within the church and other organizations dear to our hearts. We invite our friends to join us and enjoy having them alongside us. We've hosted bible studies, teen nights, and Christmas caroling parties, genuinely enjoying the fellowship and spreading of the gospel and just being together. Rarely have the invitations come the other way though. Maybe we're not good company. Or maybe they've all just come to expect things to continue as they have been. Maybe. **I truly think my loneliness comes from not being able to do these things anymore.**

I have had several people tell me that they don't consider themselves a part of our inner circle, that they don't know us but they like us, that surely there must be "someone" closer to us to walk alongside us during this trial. These same people have asked how they can help, what they can do, how they can pray. In some cases, these are folks we barely know. Yet they are asking. So it's hard for me to understand then how even friends we've had for YEARS, ones we've called our church family or our closest friends, don't even contact us anymore. Maybe we've asked for too much. I don't really know the answer to that because I've never been in that place before. If all we have belongs to the Lord anyway- our time, our resources, our belongings- who am I to say no? That's the very reason we have given as freely as we have over the years. As God has blessed us, we have passed those blessings on to those around us. In his name. For his glory.

Aside from a short nap yesterday after chemo, I haven't been able to sleep at all. A mega dose of steroids, to prevent an allergic reaction to the new chemo drugs, is keeping me wired. I'm hoping to crash soon. Chemo went well though and I'm not sick to my stomach, just fatigued yet pushing on. My taste buds are dull and I'm craving intense flavors just so I can taste my food. We'll see about that...
Maybe another go round on the trampoline instead.

Friends, my intention is not to hurt or guilt trip you into helping us. I do hope you know that. I just don't know another way to express all that we are going through without giving you the full picture...and honestly, this isn't the half of it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sifting

sift
sift/
verb
gerund or present participle: sifting
  1. 1.
    put (a fine, loose, or powdery substance) through a sieve so as to remove lumps or large particles.
    "sift the flour into a large bowl"
    synonyms:sievestrainscreenfilterriddle;
    archaicbolt
    "sift the flour into a large bowl"
  2. 2.
    examine (something) thoroughly so as to isolate that which is most important or useful.
    "until we sift the evidence ourselves, we can't comment objectively"
    synonyms:search through, look through, examineinspectscrutinize, pore over, investigate,analyzedissectreview
    "investigators are sifting through the wreckage"

I am sifting through the details of my life right now. Filtering out all but the essentials. It is allowing me to see things more clearly, to remove the distractions, to be thankful, and to pray. I'm finding myself feeling emotionally raw, hypersensitive to both the good things and the bad. My heart aches with compassion for my loved ones...and rejoices with the smallest of blessings. I have been stripped to the core...

Twice last week I received surprised messages from 2 different friends, both under the impression that I'm done with chemo. Not even close. I have 12 rounds of chemotherapy to go. Weekly starting this Wednesday. If there are no delays, I will be done shortly after Thanksgiving. God willing...

Charlie told me the other day that sometimes he forgets that I have cancer. I do too...mostly when I'm doing what I love. Like dancing with my husband. Or painting on a new canvas. Spending time chatting with a girlfriend. I wish my days weren't filled with everything that reminds me of my battle. I have 6 appointments this week...all because of cancer. 

I have given up on writing individual thank you notes. And I refuse to feel ashamed. I am overwhelmed by the number of cards and notes I've received, the donations and meals that have arrived...how will I ever keep up? I am tired...exhausted...poured out. Please forgive me. 

It has been 4 months and 7 days since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my world was turned upside-down. 128 days. In another 128 days, I'll be done...moving forward...healing. Before that, I only had fibromyalgia and thought I knew pain and fatigue. I measured my strength and energy in "spoons"...and my family knew what that meant. I was thankful for the healing God had given me and was enjoying my active and healthy lifestyle. I was building up my business, exercising regularly, eating well, and loving the freedom. I've homeschooled my boys since they were but tiny tots...now they're both in high school.  Then cancer strikes...Which of these things shall I give up? I do not have the energy or time to do them all...If I don't do it, who will? I do not worry about these things anymore. The house will get cleaned...eventually. The laundry too. I ate breakfast this morning and it didn't make me sick, so that's good. My boys started school today and I have a date to go dancing with Charlie tonight. My little "carrot" dangling in front of me to get me through today. I am tired already but I am choosing JOY.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Waiting for an update?

It's been awhile since I've given much of an update. I feel like I've been waiting for one too. It's finally time...

After being gone for 12 days, I have several appointments this week plus round 4 of chemo. But today alone will be an exhausting and expensive day as I have back to back appointments, one with my integrative oncologist, the other with my naturopathic physician. Neither will be covered by my insurance, but both are necessary to continue receiving the personalized cancer treatment I desire. How expensive you ask? Between$250-500 per hour, not including labs or supplements. *sigh* By the end of the day today, my total will exceed our monthly rent due later this week. Perspective is everything though when it comes to prioritizing the cost of it all. Our job is to work with what we have and trust God in his provision. If you feel inclined to help with these expenses, we've set up a fee-free donation account here. Even $5 helps right now.

The Top 3 topics with my wonderful integrative oncologist were STRESS, EXERCISE, and FOOD. I don't have to explain the stress part. I think you all get that! But how to remove or reduce it is harder to answer. I am working again, less than before, but thankful to be able to. (Shameless plug: If you're interested in booking a painting party with me, I have limited dates available. Visit my website for details.) I've learned that "energy conservation" means more than turning the lights off when you leave the room. For me, it means saying NO to normal everyday activities in order to pace myself for the necessary ones. Like missing out on a brunch I'd been looking forward to this weekend. Or going to a strings concert this evening with my mom. (Yay! She's here!!) Saying no so I can rest equals less stress. In theory.

Finding energy for exercising is a huge challenge right now. Chemo is kicking my butt and zapping my energy. I sorely miss my aqua zumba classes but the public pool is not the place for me right now. I had been going to the Y 2 or 3 times a week but now just walking around the block once is all I can manage. Most days I'm not even doing that. Please pray. Or maybe come walk with me?

Food. I don't even want to think about food right now. For those of you that have brought our family dinner (or considered it) you know how restricted my diet is. It just got a makeover and now it's even more limited. After seeing the integrative oncologist this morning, it just so happened that my appointment with my naturopath today was to go over the extensive food allergen test results. Anything that causes inflammation in my body is weakening my immune system and allowing mutations, like cancer cells, to thrive. Think of it like a distraction to my immune system. My cells are fighting food allergens instead of cancer or bacteria and viruses I'm exposed to. The good news is that I now know what I can safely eat to give my body what it needs and avoid unnecessary burdens. The bad news is I'm allergic or highly sensitive to 75% of the staple items I've been eating since my diagnosis (and before that too). We'll be updating the meal train to just feed Charlie and the boys now. It'll be too hard to have my meals brought now but still a huge help to have my family cared for. A huge thank you from my family to yours ❤

I appreciate the love notes and thoughtful gifts I've received the last few weeks. Your prayers and words of encouragement are so important to me. THANK YOU!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

2 down, 5 more months to go

Several times a week I am offered help and told "just call me". Easier said than done, though greatly appreciated. I've pulled the following directly from a blog post I've shared on Facebook, but I've added a few personal details to make it even easier to answer those questions.

44 Ways to Make the Day of Someone With Cancer
Aug 12, 2014 | Updated Oct 12, 2014
Elana Miller, MD Psychiatrist and writer at Zen Psychiatry

When a person first gets a cancer diagnosis, they’re often so overwhelmed they have no idea how to ask for help or what to ask for — but they sure need it. If you have a friend or family member with cancer you want to help, don’t make the mistake of making a vague, questionably-sincere offer “Well, call me when you need me!” (they won’t).

Instead, make your friend’s life easier by anticipating his or her needs and giving tangible, much-needed support. Here is a list of the top favors people did for me that made my day (and made my life much easier!) after my cancer diagnosis.

1. Deliver a meal. Make sure to ask in advance if they have any dietary restrictions or are following any guidelines. Stay for a visit, or just drop off the food if they’re not up for it (a cooler left outside the front door is perfect for this). We have this all set up here: http://www.takethemameal.com/meals.php?t=DCSS0960. Another thought, especially on days I'm feeling well, join us for dinner or invite us over. We dearly miss the fellowship!

2. Deliver a Tupperware of several pre-made meals your friend can heat up as needed. Use Tupperware you don’t need returned. We were given a freezer just for this purpose❤

3. Send a quick email, text, or message saying you’re thinking of them. I love these, they keep me going! My email address is tikaweeks@gmail.com. Text me at (541)778-7215.

4. Add “No need to respond” to the end of your message — they’ll appreciate hearing from you without feeling the need to do anything in return.

5. Add “Feel free to take me up on this offer whenever” when you offer help — they’ll know the offer will still be sincere whenever they need it (in a week, a month, a year).

6. Set a calendar alert reminding you to check in with a quick hello or offer of help on a regular basis.

7. Send a text the next time you’re at the grocery store and ask if they’d like you to pick anything up. This is huge even when it's just one item! Text me at (541)778-7215.

8. Send a text the next time you’re at the drugstore to see if they need any toiletries. Text me at (541)778-7215.

9. Send a housekeeper to clean up their place. Take care of the details so they just need to be there to open the door. This would be a godsend.

10. Send a text the next time you’re at the pharmacy to see if they need any prescriptions picked up. My pharmacy is at Target CVS. Text me at (541)778-7215.

11. Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage.

12. Offer to take them out for a coffee or lunch date. These are my favorite, but I also have a friend who moved 2500 miles away and every couple of weeks she has a "coffee date" with me in the form of a $5 donation. She doesn't even like coffee, but her sweet gesture speaks volumes to my heart.

13. Offer to visit. Check that they’re feeling up for it.

14. Offer to take them out to a movie. If they’re too tired, come by with a rental.

15. Offer a ride to chemo and keep them company during the treatment. Even better, commit to giving a ride on a regular basis throughout their treatments. Even a quick 15 minute visit while I'm sitting there for 4 hours would be welcome.

16. Let them know you’re “on call” for emergencies. Mean it. Those that have made themselves available for this are on a special contact list for my family.

17. Send a flower delivery. However, make sure the person isn’t on neutropenic precautions first; fresh flowers can be an infection risk for cancer patients with weakened immune systems. Sadly, I had to give away the many wonderful flower deliveries I got right after my diagnosis. Or, consider silk flowers (no worries about causing infection, and they last longer). I am on neutropenic precautions so I can't have cut fresh flowers in my home (we have them on a shelf outside my front door) but several pretty potted plants have made it into the ground in my backyard for extended beautification. ❤

18. Order take-out and have it delivered. Ask if they have a favorite restaurant. If they seem too overwhelmed to make any decisions, just get a sense of their dietary preferences and pick out a nice meal to send. You'll find this info on our meal page: http://www.takethemameal.com/meals.php?t=DCSS0960

19. Gift a magazine or newspaper subscription.

20. Gift a good book.

21. Tell them you love and care about them. Even if they don’t have the energy to respond, your message means a lot.

22. For your lady cancer friend, take her out to a nice beauty treatment. Think: manicure/pedicure, facial, makeup application, etc. It may be the first time she’s splurged on her appearance in a while.

23. Send a card. Make sure it’s legible — cancer eyes are tired eyes :-) I love these, they're like getting hugs in the mail! My mailing address is 1119 Dakota Ave, Medford, OR 97501.

24. Gift an Uber or Lyft gift certificate if you’re not available to offer a ride. I’m a huge fan of Uber.

25. If you’re a close friend or family member to the cancer patient, offer to be a “point person” where you screen and accept/decline others’ visit and help offers. Right after a diagnosis there are many who want to help and visit and call, but the person with cancer is probably extremely overwhelmed at this time and may prefer some space. If you're not sure by now if you are a close friend or family member, let's talk❤

26. Understand that a cancer patient is likely too overwhelmed to ask what they need; take the initiative by offering specifics, instead of saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” We've found this to be true more often than not. We appreciate the offers but don't always have an immediate need in mind.

27. Remember to still be there a few months after the diagnosis, when it’s not so new anymore. The fanfare will have died down, but your friend will still be struggling and needing logistical and emotional help. My cancer diagnosis came in early May, surgery followed soon after in June. By July when I started chemo, this was already happening. I won't be done with chemo til after Thanksgiving.

28. Offer to be the “communication person” that updates others about your friend’s state of health; it can get difficult to have to share the details over and over.

29. On that note, when you check in, don’t always ask for all the details about the current state of your friend’s health. I would love to know what's going in your life too ❤

30. Does your friend have a dog? Offer to come by and take them for a walk or to the groomers.

31. Does your friend have kids? Offer to babysit, do a school pick-up, or have them over for a sleepover.

32. Say, “Give me a task.” Maybe it will be laundry, or an errand, or picking up groceries. Be in and out. No socializing needed. My sister helped me start a list of tasks that have no sense of urgency, but are specifically for those that offer and ate still a huge help.

33. Does your friend have a garden? Offer to come by and do some watering and care. Even better, commit to taking over the watering regularly. Not this year 😢

34. Text or email a silly joke or photo. Humor is so important. My email address is tikaweeks@gmail.com. Text me at (541)778-7215.

35. Offer to help your friend sift through and respond to emails; after a cancer diagnosis the number of emails can be overwhelming and important ones can get lost in the shuffle.

36. Offer to create and manage a schedule for the person: for meal deliveries, rides to chemo, visits from friends, etc. Websites like takethemameal.com and lotsahelpinghands.com can help.

37. If you can, and your friend feels comfortable accepting it, give some cash — between hospital bills and the loss of income if one can’t work, cancer can be a huge financial hit. This is huge even when it's just a $5 donation. We've set up a account with no fees to you or me at www.paypal.me/twcancerfight. This deposits into our special medical fund account at our bank where we can also deposit cash and checks.

38. Donate money to cover paid-time-off hours for the patient or close family members (some employers allow this).

39. Buy a monthly parking pass for family members when the patient has a prolonged hospitalization — hospital parking gets expensive!

40. Gift a hat, wig, or scarf if your friend will lose her hair with treatment. ❤

41. Gift a super comfy blanket. This was one of my favorite and most-used gifts (good for couch lounging or trips to chemo).❤

42. Just listen. Don’t give advice, don’t try to be cheery — just listen and let your buddy talk.❤

43. Ask what they need from you most right now... and then do it.❤

44. Cancer isn’t contagious — give your friend a hug to let them know you’re on their side.❤ I even bought a wig and a couple head coverings for those of you uncomfortable or speechless around my extreme baldness 😉 For those that aren't, I'm entertained by those that want to touch my bald head. I've never been bald before either!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Round 3

Here we go again. All hooked up and settled in for today. I've got my mom here with me this time❤

Lots of weird side effects the last few weeks, plus a struggle emotionally. Thanks to those of you that have been praying for me.

If you missed the good news, we found out last week that my dad got his pathology report and he is CANCER FREE.  Thank you, Lord!!

I also got to work last Monday. Oh joy!! I've missed teaching my painting parties and it was good for me to get out to do it. I'm hopeful to be able to do more in the near future.