Month: September 2014

Road trips and chemo mouth.

In my early college days, a couple of my best friends and I spent most of our money driving all over the midwest and the south to see different bands that we loved.  We drove for hours, stayed in cheap motels, and lived off of Taco Bell, vending machine food, and that weird peanut butter and jelly mix that comes in the same jar.  It was amazing.

But the thing is, as twenty year olds will do, we also played lots of tricks on each other.  You know, like making your friend think you left her at the restaurant while she was in the bathroom.  Or filling her water bottle with vodka from the mini bar and dying of laughter the moment she takes a huge pull.  Or passing off dog treats as cookies.  Basically, we messed with each other’s food.  A lot.  Like, you better not leave your drink unattended or it will likely be salted.  Or worse yet, thrown out the window of the moving car.

You guys, chemo is trying to be that same kind of friend to me but doesn’t know how to play it.  It’s kind of an asshole.

For example, the other day after feeding the girls lunch, I baked some lasagna roll ups that I made and froze before chemo for myself, and my thoughts went something like this:

I’m so hungry!  And these smell so good!

Nom nom nom.

Wait, this tastes funny.  Is this bad?  I can’t tell. I never can tell anymore.  It’s probably okay.

Nom nom nom.

It does taste funny.  It’s probably just my mouth.  But they have been in the freezer for over three months.  And they are made of cheese.  How long can you freeze cheese anyway?

Nom nom nom.

I wish Josh was here to taste this and tell me if it was safe.  Oh man, I remember that time he tasted my breast milk, and it WAS bad.  Twice.  He puked that second time!  He would definitely tell me if this was bad.  

Nom nom nom.

I should invent the seeing eye dog equivalent of dog food testers for chemo patients.  It could, like, smell a food and let me know if I’m about to poison myself since my own taste buds are so unreliable.  Someone could totally poison me right now, and I wouldn’t even suspect it! 

Nom nom nom.

Oh, here comes Penny.  She wants a bite.  I’m not sure if I should give her any.  What if it really is bad?  But how can I tell her she can’t have a bite as I sit here and eat it?  Okay, I guess I’ll just see if she says anything.  Am I being an awful mom?  What if I’m food poisoning her right now with rotten lasagna?…  Oh, she wants another bite.  I guess it’s okay.  Here comes Alice.  She wants some too.  Geez, I JUST fed you guys.  Why can’t I ever just have something that’s mine?  Or eat in peace?  Or poop in peace?

All the Lagemann girls: Nom nom nom.

Oh, they lost interest.  Yeah, this tastes funny.  I’m done too.

Seriously, a lot of food just tastes weird right now.  My mouth itself, like just sitting here, tastes like poison — bitter and muddy.  Some things tastes worse than others, and drinks are definitely worse than food.  At a time when I’m supposed to stay suuuper hydrated, water is the devil.  It tastes like dirty, well water and pennies.  Josh is ever so nurturing and gets very frustrated and worried when I’m not drinking enough water.  But I kind of feel like we’re on Fear Factor and Josh is Joe Rogan asking me to drink the urine of a dying warthog or a pitcher of sharts or something.  I did once eat a bug for a dollar, but water is almost out of the question for about two weeks after a treatment.

For the ultimate eff you, first chemo makes me more tired than I’ve ever been in my life (and yeah, I’m laughing at you first and third trimester Heather, and you nursing-a-newborn Heather), and then it takes away coffee.  Chemo and coffee must be sworn enemies.   But sometimes, I choke it down anyway because I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to take care of a one year old and a four year old without coffee.  And you don’t get between a white girl and her pumpkin creamer.

Oh well, there are worse things, for sure.  And maybe, in this case, chemo mouth will make the palate grow fonder.  Or something.  I’m hoping I’ll be all like, “Oh hey, kale and beets!  I never properly appreciated you guys!  Now that I know how truly disgusting things can taste, you guys are just delicious.  From here on out, you and your vegetable friends are all I ever need!”  At least, a girl can hope.

My Glass Case of Emotion.

I feel like people are getting tired of me having cancer.  Like as tired as every little girl’s mom is of the Frozen soundtrack.  But, you know, it’s on non-stop repeat around here, and that may be too much for people to handle.  It’s too much for me to handle, really.  I wish I could mute it, but I can’t.  So instead, I’m trying to learn how to truly Let It Go without going cah-razy.

I mean, I get it.  I really do.  This stuff is heavy.  Five months and going is a long time to be so emotionally invested.  Heavy burdens and stuff.  Buuuut, I only have one more chemo left  (after I make it through this next week or so of yucks)!  And this bad boy below and those sweet smiles are keeping me going.

CountdownCollage

Josh and I NEEDED a visual representation that this would end.  I also NEEDED something to keep the kids busy on an afternoon when I wasn’t feeling so great.  Double score.  Seriously, you guys, this pink posterboard countdown is doing its part in keeping me sane.  With such irrational JOY, I cross off another day.  And although Penny really wants to draw the “X” at bedtime, I’m a mean mommy.  This fight is definitely all for the family, but those little pink boxes are mine.

Anyway, Monday was chemo 5 of 6, and I always think it will be just fine if I go it alone.  I mean, it’s just a little blood work, doctor’s appointment, and infusion.  However, my standard answer to, “How are you feeling?” right now is “Physically, I feel like an 82 year old, and emotionally, I’m 14,” so I should always know that Josh needs to be there.  I tell him not to miss work, but he knows better.  I mean, you don’t let a 14 year old go to the doctor alone, right?

Usually, before I see my oncologist, a resident or an NP assesses me, and last time, I saw the resident.  Upon seeing some fresh bruises, he told me that my blood counts are low (duh!) and to try not to hit my head on anything (mmmkthanks,duh!).

I smirk.  “That’s kind of how I live my life anyway.  You know, not hitting my head.”

He half smiled, half looked at me like I was an idiot.

For real though.  Do I really need instructions not to hit my head?  I’m pretty sure I’ve always tried to avoid concussions, subdural hematomas, and brain bleeds in general.  I’m a nurse, you know.  And my GPA has always been higher than most.  I’m not an idiot.

Except, after three weeks, I HAVE taken greater care not to hit my head.  Who am I?  And why was there room to improve my head protection abilities?  I am now questioning my whole life (because the cancer wasn’t enough to spur this new train of though.  jk. jk.)  Just, wow, is all.

Anway, THIS time going into my appointment, I silently prayed that I would see the nurse practitioner.  You see, I’ve been, uhh, emotional lately, and I knew that Mary was the only one I would actually discuss this with.  I’d guess she’s about the same age as me.  She has two daughters the same age as mine.  She feels a little like a girlfriend at the doctor’s office.  Her background is nursing, and I can feel it.  She’s much more organized and listens to my concerns.  At the risk of sounding dramatic, she sees me.

When Mary walked in, I immediately felt more cared for.  For the first five minutes, we didn’t even discuss my health or the cancer.  We talked about our kids and caught up.  That’s as long as my oncologist is usually in the room.  When she finally asked, “Well, how are you doing?” I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m crazy.”

“I’m crazy.  Or I feel like I’m going crazy, you know?  I’m not usually like this.  I’m emotional,” and tears form as if on cue, “irritable, moody.  Sometimes, I get a lot of anxiety about the future.  Fear.  I just feel so emotional and crazy right now.”

She tilts her head.  “I don’t know if this will make you feel any better or not, but I have had this same conversation probably ten times today.  This really is normal.  It’s not only your hormones but also chemo does a lot to your body.”

This conversation came an hour after an echocardiogram (ultrasound of my heart) that I cried through because the lady had to use contrast dye.  In all fairness, at the beginning she noted that she was happy that my port was accessed in case she did, in fact, need to use contrast dye.  When I said, “Well, that wouldn’t be good.  Let’s hope not,” she agreed.  Thirty minutes later, she looked at me shirtless and in the dark and said, “It looks like we do need a little contrast, honey.”

Glass-Case-of-Emotion

It turned out fine, but geez, I don’t like being this girl.  And I’m pretty sure I know how Josh feels about my “mood swings.”  It’s not all day every day, but it’s enough to drive me crazy.

Mary and I talked all about it, and she ultimately suggested an anti-depressant, which makes me feel weird.  My doctor then came in and pretty much threw a script at me, no questions asked.

I haven’t started it yet.  I just never saw myself headed here.  I probably will, but I’m just not sure.  I don’t feel depressed.  Just unstable.  lololololol.  For the most part, I am happy.  Punctuated with moments of extreme sorrow, anxiety, fear, annoyance.  And those hot flashes.

That’s probably pretty much an ad for an anti-depressant, right?  Well, I am all for sharing with you guys, and I don’t want to sugarcoat this journey too much.  So this is probably happening.

On another note, I bet you didn’t know this happens at chemo.

20140908_193405

Yeah, those jerks (just kidding, lovely nurses!) ice my fingers and toes during one of the hour long meds so my nails don’t turn black and fall off and stuff.  Blah, blah, blah.  In turn, I get to feel like Olaf while trying out my Elsa powers.  Tooooo muuuuch Diiiiiisney.

Also of note, I am trying to figure out what to be for Halloween.  I think it would be fun to incorporate my bald head.  Like, I could be Britney Spears, circa 2007, which would also accurately represent my mental state AND make me laugh a lot.  Or Dr. Evil.  I’ve had suggestions of Charlie Brown, Daddy Warbucks, Mr. Clean, GI Jane.  What do you guys think?

So that’s about it.  Chemo countdown.  My craziness.  Heather Ice Hands.  Frighteningly similar to Brit Brit.  Yeah.

Just don’t unpack and live there.

You guys, the other day I was taking care of business (business = my kids) with daytime tv on in the background, and a commercial came on that caught my ear.  You know the kind.  If you’re currently experiencing restless legs, blurred vision, the appetite of a high school football player, vampire fangs, and an uncontrollable urge to twerk — IDK — ask your doctor for THIS medicine so we can make a buttload of money.  Except I was like YESSS!  to all symptoms.  I looked up to see who was reading my mind, and it was a very nice looking grey haired woman speaking.  For a menopause medication.  Yeah, so that’s where my life is right now.

I must also note, the idea of a hot flash is kind of hilarious, but hot flashes are NO joke.  I have always been the cold type, but I am freezing my family out right now.  I should probably put hats and mittens on Alice while I lounge around bald and in my underwear.  Summertime is not the ideal time to go through this.  Wigs, sharing a bed with anyone, and babies with fevers who want to lay on me all Labor Day long are not my favorite things right now.

In keeping it real news, after I told you guys about needing radiation a couple of weeks ago, I let myself go to a bad place.  I stayed there for about a week, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the word “aggressive.”  It was a terrible place to be, and I couldn’t stop my mind from going down a lot of roads that left me partially paralyzed and on the brink of depression.  I felt really guilty and knew that I needed to pull myself out of it.  Then I talked to my dad who put some things into perspective for me.  He simply said, “Heather, it’s okay to feel that way, even healthy.  You can visit.  Just don’t unpack and live there.”  As much as I don’t like that place, I can visit; It’s probably necessary.  I just won’t unpack and live there.  Thanks, dad.

I figured a week is as long a vacation as anyone takes, and this was one of the worst places I had ever visited so I got back to my life.  It has been refreshing and fun.  So that’s what I’m going to focus on this time.  My life.

Like, I have had dinner with friends twice and Josh once (ALONE!  Holla! <— Wait, people don’t say that anymore, do they?  My cool speak has a different definition now and includes phrases like “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  Maybe someone can debrief me on some hip phrases.  You know, like Darryl did for Michael on The Office??)

Penny started preschool, but is definitely too cool for me.

PreschoolPenny

The girls and I have been able to make it the last two story times at the library, and Uncle Paul even accompanied us to one.  I’m pretty sure he was traumatized.  Kids were everywhere — throwing fits, refusing to sit on “the rug,” crying, trying to escape, hitting each other.  Per ushe.  And there were two types of moms.  The dejected mom and the mom who is so excited to see other adults that she talks the whole time.  I am definitely among them. I get it.  (Upon relaying my brother’s surprise that we talked during story time to another mom, she was all, “We’ll talk through a eulogy.  And a presidential address.”  We get hard up for adult convo, yo.)

After the library, Uncle Paul did help plan and photograph an important moment in Penny’s life.  Her wedding to “Old Teddy.”  This day has been a long time coming.

TeddyWeddingCollageWe also celebrated Alice’s 1st and Penny’s 4th birthdays last weekend with a princess party!  Sidebar: If you have styrofoam swords and wands as party favors, maybe give them out at the end of the party if you don’t want an absolute brawl to break out.  The kids LOVED them (I’m pretty sure it made the party.), but I was sure that my mother-in-law was going to kill me since the party was at her house.  She did not.  Nary a word.  Sometimes this cancer thing works to my advantage.

Also, I almost had a pinterest fail to show you guys.  Midway through this castle cake, it looked like a lost cause.  For serious.  I literally said, “Well, we can serve this alongside a picture of what it was supposed to look like so people can get a good laugh.”  But Josh took over and saved. the. day.  It’s not perfect, but we all loved it.  I did not think the end result was possible.  Josh has mad piping skills.  I have mad put some princesses on the cake to hide some stuff skills.

PicMonkey Collage

After the party, I went to a benefit for an old friend of mine’s son, Sam.  A few weeks before me, he was diagnosed with cancer AT FIVE YEARS OLD.  I just don’t even know how that happens, and it seems so unfair.  But this little dude is now done with his treatment, and I had the sweetest little conversation with him that, really, I can’t stop thinking about.

His mom brought him over because he noticed my pink hair.  She said they had a conversation about it, and he wanted to ask me a question.

In the sweetest little voice that melted my mom heart, “Do you have cancer too?”

“I do.  Yes.”

“Do you have a port too?”

“Yeah.  Like you.”  And I pulled my shirt back to show him.

He smiled and showed me his port too.  All the cool kids have ports, you know.  (What’s up, Garrett!)

That was it.  But, man.

This world is wonderful and scary and sad and confusing and full of joy.  And what I’ve learned the most from this experience is that life is meant for connecting with other people.  So that’s what I’m working on right now.  Not unpacking my bags in some weird, worried place in my mind and just getting out there and living and connecting with people.  Also, keeping cool.  And babying my eyelashes.