Saturday, September 24, 2011

Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

I have lots to update on, including Evan's 4 month pictures and his doctor appointment and my cardiologist appointment, but first, I have to share what happened on my special day today.

I had always heard about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure but never knew the details behind the race, the community or the organization. This year, a long-lost friend of mine from high school, Laura Korhorn told me that she had been organizing a team for the race for the past few years and wanted to know if they could put my name on their team shirt. I agreed, although there was some hesitancy on my end.  Thus far, I hadn't immersed myself in the "breast cancer community" nor taken advantage of any of the resources that are provided.  This was going to be my first venture into publicly declaring myself a "Survivor", even though to me, I am still in "Fighter" status.

I can't express how special today was or how special I felt.  I picked up a beautiful pink sparkly t-shirt that said, "Survivor".  Even though I only walked the 5K, the team "Breast Assured" was there cheering for me as I crossed the finish line and the loud speaker announced, "Erin Murray, Survivor from Grand Rapids" has finished the race.  I fought tears back as I was handed a pink rose and a heart with three pink rhinestones on it.  Because, for the first time, I felt a bond in my baldness.  There was a bond in the flat chests I saw.  There was a bond in the pride in the women's eyes and the depth of their journey.  Even though I am in the middle of my journey and am struggling with the anxiety around my upcoming surgery in three weeks, I was a part of that community today.  And the reason I could be a part of that community is because I crossed the finish line with Meghan, my mom, my dad, Ed and Cindy by my side.  Lacey, Ben, Laura, Stacey Zylstra, Amy and Dave Butterfield, Kara Brinks and the rest of our team (the runners!), Katie and Meghan stood there waiting to congratulate me - my amazing support system.  For the first time, my cancer was something I was angry or ashamed or embarrassed about - it was the first time I felt like I really could overcome.

Instead of thinking about the three surgeries, the year of Herceptin, the radiation or the five years of Tamoxifen, I thought about my blessings.  I thought about my wonderful family (of course, BK called me right after the race), my amazing friends and my precious little baby who was asleep at home with daddy.  I thought about the wonderful home that Brian and I have created and what our future will look like - because I will have a future.  Today was a day of inspiration for me to keep going and really kick some ass.  So Laura, thank you so much for coordinating.  And to the rest of Team Breast Assured - thank you for helping me on my road to being a "Survivor".

Team Captain Laura Korhorn and me

Team Breast Assured

Happy Ed, Cindy, Nana Moni, Meggie and Papa Tres

Two of my best friends (and runners), Katie and Lacey

My other favorite sisters, Katie and Meghan

My two biggest supporters....Noogs and Nana Moni

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Work I Go

It has been a busy, fun-filled but overwhelming week! Cancer side-effects tagged along the entire time but I am trying my best to not let them get in the way of my everyday activities. 

We had our first weekend getaway without Evan and the boys. My dear friend Katie had a beautiful wedding up in Elk Rapids. She looked stunning, the weather was magnificent and Brian and I had a wonderful time hanging out with our closest friends. Katie had a quaint beach wedding and the reception was held under beautiful white Christmas lights right on the water. I wore my long hair since I was trying to "fancy" it up.

Brian and I decided to take advantage of our weekend away and stay up north on Saturday night too. We started our morning by taking a day trip over to Sleeping Bear Dunes. It was the first time I had ever been over there. I was especially interested since Sleeping Bear was voted the Most Beautiful Place in America recently. Brian and I took the driving tour, until we saw a chance to get out and climb the dunes down to Lake Michigan. The walk/run down was so fun - big flying leaps while you effortlessly make it to the bottom. The climb up looked steep but it didn't look impossible. And that is a lie. It is impossible. It was probably one of the physically hardest things I have ever done. Since I had chemo on Monday, I was still dealing with the muscle aches and joint pain, as well as my nose bleeding. Therefore, keeping my head straight down and crawling on all fours was not the best idea. But, step by step and inch by inch, I made it up the dune. There was a lot of symbolism in making that climb for me. It was a beautiful view and worth it to go to the bottom and see it, but I wasn't sure I would be able to make it up on my own. Brian stayed with me, by my side, during each sweaty step. We took a lot of breaks, and it certainly wasn't pretty, but I made it. And believe it or not, I even passed a few people (like one really old person, but it was a pass).

Brian and I finished our Saturday with some great massages at the Grand Traverse Spa and then headed to Leland to watch the sunset and visit the fishing shacks. We found a cute little restaurant called The Cove and enjoyed some fantastic whitefish. I really missed Evan during our weekend away and we called Nana Moni at least twice a day to see how he was doing, but it was a great weekend for Brian and me.

It certainly was a good way to spend time before I headed back to work on Monday. I was very nervous to be away from Evan, manage my work life with my home responsibilities and be an effective team member. I am happy to say that my first week back was pretty great. It was nice to see my colleagues and get caught up on all of the changes that have occurred in the past four months. I also had a chance to spend an entire day with my teammate Laura, who was my "other half" at work for two years! It was great to spend the day laughing, learning and brainstorming just the way we used to. We topped our day off with our old teammates, Courtney and Stacey for a laughter-filled dinner at Ukai Steakhouse.

The Herceptin has been pretty tolerable, especially compared to the Taxotere. I have had a few days of extreme fatigue and am still having joint pain and nosebleeds, but it's not nearly as severe as before. What would help, is if my baby would start sleeping through the night so that didn't add in to the exhaustion. I feel like Evan may be punishing me for going back to work - we have not had a day of 9:00 pm - 6:30 am in a few weeks and in fact went back to waking up twice a night last week. He knows that I am leaving during the day and I think he is punishing me a little bit.  Silly baby.

Even sillier - this is what Evan is sitting in while I am finishing my blog.  Silly Wolverines.  At 3:00, he will be changing into his Spartan onesie.

Lastly, Evan went on a date last night with Gracie.  Even though they are only 4 weeks apart, Evan is about 6 inches longer than Gracie!  They played under the jungle gym for a good half hour and made me laugh so hard!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming...

We made it!  We made it through all of the big, grossy chemotherapies and I have five weeks of celebration and sunshine ahead!  After this next week, I will hopefully say goodbye to the bad taste in my mouth (I'm talk to you red wine, no more cat hair balls!), goodbye to muscle aches and joint pain, goodbye to bone-numbing tiredness and goodbye to nosebleeds.  I plan to say hello to my old clothes again (since I will also be saying hello to the gym on a regular basis), hello to my dancing shoes, hello to my work Blackberry (a curse and a blessing!) and hello to regular-old me.  I even celebrated today by taking pictures of my last big chemo with my cheering section!

I even wore my fancy scarf for the day.  You can also see that I bring my own blanket with me - it's so stinking cold in the room that we are on, so I like to snuggle up with something from home.  But now that blanket is going back to being a regular old nap and snuggle blanket, just like it's meant to be. 

Today at chemo was nuts.  My appointment was at 10:15.  I arrived at 10:13 (never wanting to give myself too much time because I like to limit how often I have to spend in the waiting room!).  They finally drew my blood for labs at 11:00, but it was almost 1:00 before they finally called me back to start treatment.  The place was a zoo.  I would have been more upset if it hadn't been for four things. 

1.  My mom and Cohen were there to keep me company and the cafeteria brought doughnuts in. My mom and I watched Cohen smash sprinkles all along his cheeks while we visited.

2.  When my mom and Cohen left, Brian came with my favorite sushi of all time.  Marado Sushi Crazy Boy rolls.  Perfect way to spend time in the waiting room and assure that no one sit near us since we were eating stinky food.

3. Has anyone read Jay Mohr's blog on Real Housewives of New Jersey on  So freaking funny.  I sat in the waiting room for a good 45 minutes, by myself and was just laughing out loud.  And anyone who knows me, understands that when I laugh hard, I cry easily.  So I was laughing with tears running down my eyes and just didn't care.  Especially when Jay was talking about Jaqueline and Teresa going to Lauren's grand opening for her make-up business.  "Jaqueline wore a reasonable black dress.  Teresa was dressed like Grimace."  That just slayed me. Click here for more Jay Mohr's RHONJ Blog  (BTW - I have asked my mom and Meghan about my new glasses.  Do they look like Richie's on RHONJ?  That's not the look I'm going for but I can't help but wonder...)

4. There were so many people in bad situations today that I couldn't be bitter about mine.  There was a man in a wheelchair sitting next to me and they told him there were no beds available, that he would have to use a chair (like I do).  But you could see his man was weak and needed to lay down.  He was so upset.  They told another man that he couldn't get a chair and could sit in the waiting room and take his chemo out there.  He was so upset.  I guess I qualified for a chair because of all of the pre-meds they give me that make me so tired but that chair was a long-time running today.  So, I'm glad I had Jay Mohr to keep me company and provide some much needed entertainment.

Back to school went off without a hitch today.  Gavin was dressed, lunch packed, hair gelled and ready to go.  Stacey and I took him to the bus together and he had a nice first day at school.  Cohen, on the other hand, can hardly wait to go and didn't think it was fair he couldn't start today too.  Cohen is in Monday/Wednesday/Friday kindergarten so we are celebrating his first day of school tomorrow.  Hopefully, my insomnia will just keep me up until 7:00 am and then I can get them ready for bed and catch a few hours of sleep. 

In other fabulous, making-me-happy news, Brian and I booked a getaway weekend to Florida.  We are going the weekend before my surgery.  I was very apprehensive to go, but Brian and my mom thought it was a great idea.  My generous Aunt Kathy and Uncle Doug have opened their Clearwater beach condo to us and we are going to enjoy sun, good food and some relaxation.  I can't wait to have a few days of feeling great and spending time with my husband to rebuild me before I head into the next phase of my journey.

Last thing...stay tuned this week for all of the wedding preparation of my dear friend, Katie Roe....heading up north to Traverse City for her beach wedding this weekend.  It's supposed to be beautiful, just like the bride and I can't wait to celebrate Katie and Barry with my dear friends Lacey and Ben, Meghan and Dave and Scott and Becca.  So many fun things going on!

And one more smile to send you away with....aww!  Melts my heart.  This is a great week.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It's Labor Day...and I'm Smiling

I have to start by thanking everyone for the wonderfully supportive and encouraging e-mails.  It's nice to know that when it seems like my resolve just isn't there, that there are all of these amazing people out there to "love me through it".  My beautiful Aunt Laura suggested I look into the Muslim faith because the veils would shield my lack of hair and eyebrows and that I will soon feel normal and still be forgetful because I'm a sleep deprived mom.  My good friend Nancy promised that we would get together and have lunch again soon...and when we had lunch together a few weeks ago, we laughed just like we did when we worked in side-by-side cubicles seven years ago.  My fashionable cousin Bryn, reminded me that in the words of Destiny's Child, I am a Survivor already. My fabulous sister-in-law Alison told me this was a fight that I am capable of winning. (WINNING!) And my other wonderful-sister-in-law, Tricia, always makes me laugh because when I start getting frustrated with Evan, she always comes in with the "worse than you stories" about her 2.5 kids. My Aunt Mary reminded me that even though I want to look my best, what's inside my heart and how I act is the most important.  The best mother-in-law ever (mine!) told me that this an emotional roller coaster and although I have been on it for a long time, it was good to share how I am truly feeling.  My favorite Brigid reminded me that although down days are normal, they don't last forever and I have good days in my future. Mrs. Kinning, like another mother to me, said that as my story has unfolded, she thinks I am becoming stronger everyday. My Dado told me that I shouldn't consider what I wrote to be a "downer" post but an honest reflection of how I'm feeling and while I've been dealt a lousy hand (cancer), I also won the lottery (Evan).  My Uncle Rick said that if thoughts of Aunt Laura shimmying to disco music after indulging in red wine didn't cheer me up, he would bring chip dip as well.  My dear friend Katie, just told me simply, she loved me.  And my mom and Aunt Debbie wanted to pass along comments, but haven't quite maneuvered how to do so on my blog :)  My mama did buy me the most beautiful roses to look at all weekend, which was great, since I spent Friday on the couch doing just that.

So, thank you, for helping me get through.  I made it through one more week and I am that much closer to my last chemo, my surgery, my radiation and my clean bill of health.  The e-mails, words and encouragement that you send truly help me get through my lousy days.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Turn that Frown Upside Down

I'm sure we all have our moments and days where the bad outweigh the good and the dark overshadows the light.  That has been my week this week and I can't seem to figure out exactly what is going on or how to snap out of it.  But, Labor Day weekend is coming up and that means it's the last weekend of sunshine and boats and water and I am going to force myself to enjoy it.

Chemo on Monday was the same - nothing new to share.  While I was at chemo, I asked for my results from the echocardiogram I had last week.  I was disappointed to hear that the results were the same - my ejection fraction remains at 40.  Had I been in more of an optimistic state of mind, I would have celebrated that my EJ hadn't gone down any further.  But I was frustrated and upset that on top of treating the cancer, I also have to treat heart damage.  I had talked with my dad about how the heart is a muscle and it seems like you can repair a muscle when there is damage (this is now a conversation about medicine taking place between two non-MD's).  Even on my tired days, I have been trying to just walk a little bit, do one of my workout DVDs or get to the gym. I'm committed to fixing my heart so I don't have to deal with that in the long-term but as of now, it seems like it is another obstacle to overcome.

I am always really tired on chemo-afternoons because they give me so many pre-drugs that make me tired.  I did my zombie-thing where I stayed on my bed most of the afternoon and was pretty much in a daze.  Yet, by the time bedtime rolls around, I can't sleep a wink.  This is when the steroids from the day kick in.  I made Evan's bottles, folded the laundry, ironed a little bit, signed up for some pin-board thing on the Internet, tried to figure out how to use Twitter, fed Evan, watched RHONJ, Giuliana and Bill, and then finally settled down for the night with some Ambien and Ativan around 4:45 am. I woke up at 7:30 am after hearing Brian and the boys but just couldn't get myself going again.  It was one of those days where I was just sad.  I am sad that my fuzzy hair is falling out again and I am going back to being bald again.  You wouldn't think losing fuzzy hair would be as bad as losing long hair but it just feels like it's going to be FOREVER before I'm back to normal.  I was sad because my maternity leave has been kind of rough.  It hasn't been about me bonding with Evan.  It's been about me bouncing from one side effect to the next and getting through treatment one week to the next.  Now, I am 12 days away from going back to work and I am very anxious about it.  I am anxious that my chemo-brain has left me incompetent and dumb.  I am anxious about trying to get back into work and making an impact before I have to go out for surgery in October.  I am sad because sometimes I get tired of fighting.  I long for the days of being a normal 30-year old again, where my biggest decision was what plans to make for the weekend or what to do to entertain the boys on a rainy afternoon.  I had a really big talk with Brian and my mom about my treatment plans going forward.  After surgery, I am scheduled for radiation five days a week.  After I finish my Herceptin (which will be in June 2012), I am scheduled to be on Tamoxifen for five years.  Tamoxifen is an estrogen-blocking drug which has the capability to throw me into early menopause and obviously would disable my ability to get pregnant.  Tamoxifen comes with a lot of side effects, including high liver and ovarian cancer rates.  And on Tuesday night, when I'm tired and overwhelmed, my resolve to take all of this on diminishes.  Fighting starts to feel like a burden.  People taking care of me starts to feel like a burden.  My mom and Meghan left Fenton early on Sunday to come over and help me with Evan because I was so overwhelmed from the weekend.  It's hard to constantly have everyone in my life make arrangements for me and accommodate me because I'm not the same independent person I was six months ago. 

I know this is a downer post. It took me a while to figure out if and how I wanted to share what a bad week looked like for me.  I try very hard to stay positive and optimistic and be grateful for all that I have.  But sometimes, the challenges get the better of me and it's a few days of crying it out before I can try to get my head back in the game.  I am making the decision that today I will be back in the game...but if you see me and I have a few tears in my eyes, just know that I am fighting against my heart this week, along with the cancer.