My account of life both on and off of two wheels...... "At least I'm enjoying the ride"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lucky Girl

There is a bowl in our living room that is filled with cards, letters and even handmade drawings. These are all  another reminder of how lucky a girl I am.   Since I have gone "public" with my diagnosis, the continual influx of mail has amazed me and this bowl of cards does not even include all the emails I have received and stored in my inbox.

I was inspired to go through this bowl this past weekend.

It was overwhelming how many there were and yet, I sorted and read through them all as if I have never seen them before.  Individually, they have their own meaning- They make me laugh, smile, cry and give me comfort.  As a whole, something even more amazing can be felt -All the love and support that I have received and continue to receive.  Without all of that and all of you, I could not do this.  Thank you everyone.

  Just like one giant hug from all of you. 
Wonder Woman- Always my favorite super hero
Who wouldn't want that? 
Cool chicks of course.
You can say that again.
No sugar coating that one.
I have to say, there are a few perks.  
The Greenman- is the guardian of all living things and symbolizes growth and renewal. 
In the first corner, me.  In the second corner, the Big C.
Ding- Ding

baby birds
Handmade cards always have special meanings.  I'm still climbing up the stormy side but I will be riding down that sunshine hill one day. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Hug For Your Head.

There has not been many positive things that have yet to come out of having cancer.  But if there is one positive thing that I have come to experience, it is that there are some generous, kind and loving people out there in the world.  I did not need to have cancer knock on my door to remind me of this, but it has and I am grateful for it.

I have been blessed to have so much support from my boyfriend, family, friends, and medical team- all have been on my side ready to support me in whatever I need.  I do need a lot of support these days- some days I am not sure what it is I need, but I need it whatever it is. It could be anything; It could be a sweet kiss from my guy as he tells me how special I am, an email from a friend who is sending me strength, or a visit from a friend or family member just because they want to and not because I asked them to. It all helps and I am grateful for it. 

Why this sudden burst of gratitude?  The gratitude never goes away but some things are just strong reminders that human beings can be inspired to have compassion and love for even a complete stranger.

I had been poking around the internet a month or so ago and stumbled upon another breast cancer survivor blog.  One of her entries was about how you could receive a free head wrap if you were going through treatment.  With the future looking bleak for my hair, I was intrigued.  

France Luxe is a hair ornament company out of Washington state.  The CEO/President, Laurie Erickson developed a program called Good Wishes. -"Our mission is simple: to provide, free of charge, one beautiful It’s a Wrap or Good Wishes Scarf to women and children experiencing the thinning or loss of hair as a result of illness or treatment, to in some small way, to ease their journey. Our goal is to provide a small bit of comfort and share the power of positive thinking and good wishes with these individuals on their path to healing and recovery."

They don't just have head wraps so check out their site- they have some really fun stuff.

I emailed Laurie and asked how her program works.  I received a quick reply from her simply asking me to make a choice of design and she will get started on making my wrap.  Wow, this is fantastic. I emailed her my choice and went on about my life.  

My treatments have been moving forward  and as the doctors promised, I have lost my hair- this week was a bit tougher than the prior weeks. It was a hard pill to swallow and dampened my spirits. 

Tuesday of last week, I got my mail and waiting for me was  "It's a wrap" from Laurie.  Not only is it handmade, with beautiful colors, wonderful material, well crafted and packaged up so perfectly,  it came with something even more special.  A card, personally signed by Laurie and a dozen women that I have never met with messages of strength, courage and hope.  On what seemed to be a miserable day in the land of the cancer vortex, was quickly brightened by the loving energy of strangers.  Thank you ladies for the hug for my head.

"It's a wrap" 
Kindness of strangers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just keep moving.

The treatments have been wearing on me mentally and physically.

I am just not so sure about all this crap I have to endure and have done to my body.  I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I still can't believe what has happened to me.  Where did the girl I know go?

I keep hearing people say, "you are strong; you can beat this; you will get through this" Yes, we all can be strong when given a choice of life or death and I will get through this but who will I be when it's all over?
I have come to some level of acceptance with all of this-the key word being some. But it still does not change the fact that this horrible disease has totally terrorized  my world- I get so scared and angry at times.
No matter what, I was going to try and ride my bike last weekend.  Saturday was worse than normal.  I watched G load the bikes on the car and my head was spinning and my body just wanted to crawl on to the couch. I tried to tell myself, Just get out there and spin your legs, don't let this beat you down.  These training rides of mine take up a lot of time from my guys regular training time but on so many levels it is important that we ride together- we rode together before this all started and we will ride together when it is over. 

I was determined to get up to our friends bike shop in Briarcliff and back.  It was a hard struggle at this point in my treatment, but I did it. The trick to managing the nausea is keeping something in my stomach.  Nothing too big, but something, so we stopped for food on the way back. 

Sunday I felt worse than Saturday.  I almost canceled the ride, but that of course would mean that the cancer wins.  So off I went determined. We pedaled for awhile, but we didn't make it up to my regular turn around spot. I had enough- the treatments were catching up .Many times G will remind me, my cancer training rides are more exercise than some people get in a week. Nonetheless, I still feel defeated. 

G took a couple photos of my ride.  He wanted to take video but I couldn't bare to see myself.  I think these photos were what made me ask the question Who is this girl? Sometimes it is hard to connect to that person in the pictures.

My new riding hat- very appropriate gift from a friend and quite comfy on my bald head
Sunday ride- doing the best I can.
Are we there yet?

So, there it is.  I'm not always positive.  Can you blame me?

I do know this will all pass, but I wanted to share some insight into what are my harder days and what goes on. It is not always easy, but I try my best to keep on moving.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just like Ground Hog Day.

Today was treatment # 3. I have been feeling physically good the past week, so when I got up this morning I took a nice brisk walk through town. My goal was to hit as many hills as I could to test myself.

It is a hard pill to swallow to know that in a few hours, I would be right back where I was two weeks ago and the two weeks prior to that.

I was very anxious this morning.  Some parts have gotten easier, but I think just the anticipation of feeling like junk is getting to me.  The walk helped to take some of the edge off.   My father arrived at my house a 10:30 to accompany me to my treatment and had a bunch of yummy food for me.  It was his turn to join the 'party'.  Dr. W. my oncologist and I like to say "lets get this party started."  Probably a strange comment but it works for me.  It certainly is not a party by any means.

The check up with the nurse and Dr. W went well.  My heart and lungs are great and my white blood count is back up into the safe zone.  I can't remember the figure to be exact but it was somewhere in the 9,000's.  I am cleared for treatment.  We head upstairs to the chemo suite.  While we wait for the nurse to call us in,  I eat half my P.B.& J  so there is something in my stomach to help prepare me for all the drugs.  

The treatment seemed to move pretty fast today and again, totally uneventful.  We were home before 3 which is great!  I had spoken to a friend this afternoon and was trying to explain how this whole process felt.  What came to mind was Ground Hog Day with Bill Murry.  One of my favorite movies of all time.  I feel like I'm finding a rhythm but no matter what, it's the same results and all the same cast of characters are there.  For the most part, I can just predict the scene.  One of my favorite characters is in the waiting room.

He was eying my P.B. & J

Some updates on the biking world.  G and I went for a ride the other night.  Me on my road bike - for the first time and him on his mountain bike.The arm still hurt but it felt great to be on the road bike.  I had gotten this bike just for training but secretly, I also like riding on the road.  Ok, well now it's not a secret.

Yes, my road bike is pink.  I told you I like pink!
Me attempting to take more pictures of myself riding.
Riding side by side- sort of. 
Riding home at sunset- Tarrytown Lakes
I know I have my work cut out for me the next 5-6 days. But I also know, I'll get through it just like I did the last time.  I can always hope it's not as bad as the last time. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bikes, Boats and Bald Baby Bird?

Last Friday was the best I have felt in a week.  I have yet to feel 100% since surgery, but I have come to terms  that it may not be  for awhile.  As I get more adjusted to the new me, I start to figure out my limits. And, try to give myself a little push past them.  I've never been one to stay within the limits. 

I started off Friday morning with a very productive physical therapy session.  My therapist is helping me work out the cording in my left arm.  Cording can happen after having a axillary lymph node dissection, which I did.  It limits my range of motion in my shoulder and causes a great deal of tightness, as if I have a tense rope that starts under my armpit.  It can cause pain when I'm doing certain activities so it needs to be stretched.  I am hopeful for a full recovery from this.

On any given Friday evening, you can pull into the parking lot at Graham Hills in Pleasantville to find a group of mountain bikers ready to head into the woods to get their ride on. I've missed these rides.  It has been over two months since I've been able to ride my mountain bike in the woods.   With the clearance from most of my team of doctors, G loaded the bikes on the car and we headed for the woods.  I didn't really know who was going to be there at the trail. Oddly, I was nervous.  Will I still remember how to do this?  Will my arm hurt?  It has also been a while since I've seen a lot of these guys and there is always a bit of social anxiety that comes with this diagnosis-I've felt a bit isolated these days.  As people arrive and I see their huge smiles and realize they are just happy to see me, it was then I started to feel more comfortable in my skin.  As I'm gearing up I hear " Reba, are you here to ride?" I'm sure gonna try!

G captures my first dirt ride. 

 I have a long way to go before I get back up to speed and confidence but this was a good start.  

On Saturday G and I headed up to the Peekskill Celebration for the Dragon Boat Races.  My mother met us up at the train station and we headed over to meet my teammates for the day.  The Yin Yang Dragons- Great group of random people out to celebrate life.  Some folks I knew before from other activities and ironically, there was a couple there that I know from mountain biking!  
Getting ready to get in the boat- Holding my rose proudly for the Cancer Awareness Rose Ceremony
My mom and me
The Dragon

Trying to figure out if the roses will make it through the race?
Paddling out to line up
The race
Post race, the boats come together for the Cancer Awareness Rose Ceremony.  Quite emotional with bag pipes and all. 
View from the shoreline
Roses now float  away as a symbol of those that have lost their battle or continue to fight to beat the cancer dragon.

Paddling back to the dock. 
Safe and sound back at the dock- phew!
Me and my beautiful, strong and courageous friend J.

This was a great day. Thank you to my friends for inviting me to paddle with your team and to be able to participate in the Cancer Awareness Ceremony.  This experience will be with me forever and will remind me on those dark days that there IS life after diagnosis and Cancer will not define me or defeat me.  Also, thank you to my mom and my guy who came out to support me.

I was so tired after this event that I ended up passing out on the couch for a 2 hour nap before joining up with my sister.  This was her last weekend in town before she heads back to her real life in Maine.  I am going to miss her so much I have trouble even thinking about it. 

I had planned to try and ride in the woods again on Sunday morning, but  my arm hurt too much.  I didn't want to over do it. So we decided to hit the North County Trail again.  These are great endurance rides for me and are way less hard on my body.  I was very tired after the full weekend of activities but so grateful for feeling well enough to participate and enjoy the fantastic weather and people.

So, am I totally bald yet?  I still have baby bird like fuzz on my head but yes, I'm almost completely bald.
Taken Friday night- even less than that now.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coming this a bad dream?

The past few days seem to have run together. I wake up each morning to the sound of my guys alarm clock. It's early and my body is so tired but my mind is wide awake already struggling to process the smallest of daily tasks that are ahead of me. Normally, rising at 6 am in the summer would just mean trying to get a long road ride in before the heat. Instead, I get this horrible wave of nausea and think it is impossible to get up and try to put food in my body let alone a bike ride. Round 2 had some side effects lessen while others seemed relentless. They say this treatment is cumulative so I have another two rounds of this particular drug cocktail to look forward to. My chemo nurse tells me that the next drug is not as bad with the nausea. I can only pray that is the case. That doesn't help me now but it does give me hope that this will end.

Last weekend started off well.
Here is a picture G took of me. We were on a training ride and a friendly visit to our friends at Briarcliff Bike Works. It was a good day considering I was 2 days post chemo and on the single speed. Don't comment on the no helmet. The hair was very fragile at this point.

This was the longest ride yet. After getting some post ride bagels and stocking up for the house, we head home to meet up with my sister. The question of the day. To buzz or not to buzz? It has become a sensitive subject. After taking a shower and washing my hair, I realize this is one of the inevitable things that I just have to accept. Off we go to the local Barber Pole. My sister, my guy and my last bit of locks.

Me explaining to the lovely Kim how short I am wanting to go. I could tell she was nervous but once she got started, there was no stopping her.

We both get in our chairs...oh did I forget to mention that G is buzzing his hair as well? His idea. I tried to talk him out of it.

But then I made him go first.

My turn. Penny for my thoughts...

Yup, it's all gone. Still smiling. Remember, my sister is the photographer and we always try to get a laugh out of any situation.

Laughing with you, I promise.

OK..let's roll!

Thank you to the kind folks at the Barber Pole in Tarrytown for helping a girl out!

Hmmm, what just happened?

Sunday came and went and I never made it up to the big race. I had to pull the plug at the last minute as I could barely get myself off the couch. The idea of driving in a car for 2 hours round trip made my stomach turn and my head spin. That is just the way this whole thing goes. A few days pass and I just try to get through it. I know I will and I know that there is an end to this madness but when I'm in the thick of it, it just sucks so bad.

So, I'm coming to and no, this is not a bad dream. I'm fully aware of what is happening to me. I am almost completely bald since these photos were taken. I'm still trying to embrace this so no photos yet. I had to take a lint roller to my head, yes a lint roller, to help the shedding process. It's like living with a cat, temporarily. My scalp is sensitive so I can't do too much at once. I have little patches still on the top of my head and G has nick named me baby bird. Very endearing and well, pretty funny.

My body is tired and my morale took a dive this week but I am heading into the "good days" before I have to go back for round 3. The weekend weather looks to be next to perfect so I plan to enjoy it as much as possible.

There is a great festival going on in the city of Peekskill this weekend. It's called the Peekskill Celebration. If your in the area, it should be a great time. A survivor friend of mine has invited me to join in the Dragon Boat Races which start at 9:00 am Saturday. I won't be racing but if all goes well I will be paddling in the Cancer Awareness race at noon.