Friday, December 2, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Wednesday was a momentous occasion for me. It was the first day I went to work without my wig and the beginning of my "Wig Free For Life" journey. The only way to describe the feeling is LIBERATING!! It wasn't the first time I had left the house without my wig but what made it such a big deal is that Tuesday was the last day I would EVER feel like I was in hair bondage.

Being a school teacher my big concern was How would my students react? I teach six and seven-year olds and we all know how brutally honest kids can be. Monday I struggled while getting ready for work. I really didn't want to wear it but I was still somewhat self-conscious about letting go. So I slapped it on my head...half cocked and went to work. I know I probably looked crazy but I didn't care at that point. This was a sure sign that the time had come to let go. My intention was to prep my students so there wouldn't be a shock and awe factor.....plus I would avoid some of that brutal honesty.

Well, the day got away from me and I forgot my intended prep session so shock and awe it would have to be. When I walked in Wednesday morning the reaction wasn't nearly as exaggerated as I thought it would be. For the most part they all just looked surprised, there were a few gasps, a couple of Why did you cut your hair Ms. Martin?, and one It wasn't her hair, it was a wig (A few of the kids already knew it was a wig). Unfortunately I didn't escape that brutal child-like honesty. There were a couple of very memorable comments.
  1.  "You mean to tell me that was a wig all along?!?! (student shakes head then places head in hands in disbelief). THIS IS CRAZY!!
  2. "You know Ms. Martin, you look kind of silly like that."
Despite looking silly, I left work feeling great. I was glad that I let go and learned even more about myself and my hang-ups through this cancer journey of mine. I was on my way to take the kids to bible study at church and I still had a million and one things going through my head. I had to go receive more cancer treatment the next day, I was having issues with my radiation area, my nephew was having some health and school issues, etc. etc. Just then I looked up and realized I was approaching a red light....and BAM!!!! I hit the brakes but was unable to stop before hitting a Cadillac Escalade. There was only a scratch on the rim of the Escalade but my Magnum was not as lucky. Thankfully the kids and I came out unscathed. God was truly watching over us.

So that leads me to today, Thursday, as I sit here in my treatment room receiving Herceptin at Louisville Oncology. I've been experiencing some skin irritations and severe itching in the areas where I received radiation. The nurse informed me that even though it may sound weird, the fact that I am experiencing the irritations lets them know the radiation is working. My skin is beginning to crack and possibly burn again. YaY me!! *heavy sigh* The nurse says that even though I finished radiation in October the effects could last for months. Between the falling out of my hair, to losing my taste buds, to 2nd and 3rd degree burns from my initial radiation, to the toenails that are STILL coming off.....Cancer seems to be the gift that keeps on giving!!!

Despite all of this I must tell you that right now my heart is HAPPY!! For this happiness I'd like to thank God for the gift of his son Jesus Christ. When you've been blessed in life the way I have, even the trials can't steal your joy. That's Jesus Joy!! My faith is unwavering and my gratefulness cannot be measured. My prayer is that you all experience that joy that gives you peace in the middle of your storms. It's a wonderful thing.



Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Choice Is Yours

As I sit here in children's hospital with my nephew on the children's oncology floor my perspective begins to fine tune itself even more. Dealing with adult cancer is one thing but watching a child suffer is an entirely different entity. My nephew doesn't have cancer but he has Sickle Cell. In my opinion it's an even more debilitating disease because there is no cure and he will suffer from this his entire life.

I remember watching my brother suffer from this disease as a child. The horrible pain, the screams of agony, all the hospital visits, countless needles, the list goes on and on. My dad has the disease and passed it on to my brother and my sister. My sister didn't suffer nearly as bad as my brother did. She rarely had crises or episodes but when she did it was almost worst than watching my brother suffer. He was used to it and knew what to expect. That didn't make it easier but he tolerated these episodes better than my sister. Unfortunately, my sister ended up with the severe lung issues with the disease when she got older and it ultimately caused her death. Anyone who is close to me and my family knows the hardships we have endured regarding health issues. So when I tell you we come from a family of fighters....believe me, IT'S IN OUR BLOOD (literally and figuratively).

I keep hearing people say, "It must be awful to have to deal with him being sick and you're dealing with your health issues too." I will say it's tiring but I must be honest, I'm still thankful. Why? This is his first crises in a long time. Imagine my terror when I found out about my cancer last December knowing I had a child with serious health issues of his own. I was petrified. What happens if he gets sick and I'm sick? Then what?      

Well, the other day I was on the phone with my sister and she was saying the same thing and I couldn't help but say, "You know what? I'm not mad because at least he waited until I got through my surgeries, months of chemotherapy and radiation before he had an episode. At least now I am well enough to handle it." He overheard my telephone conversation and when I hung up he said, "Aunt Nana, I tried my best not to get sick because I knew you were sick." It's one of those parenting moments that brings tears to your eyes. Lord knows he has given me my share of parenting problems but this was one of those moments that make you feel proud.

I am nearing the end of my journey and happy doesn't begin to describe how I feel. For me there is a light at the end of the tunnel but for him there is not. I still have good days and bad days but who doesn't?So, before you begin to wallow in self misery or book the room for your pity party be thankful for what you have and be mindful of how your situation COULD be worse. If you are negative or bitter it is because YOU choose to be. It may sound cliche but 'Let Go and Let God'. Your life will be much more enjoyable.

For this life I choose happiness, peace, and tranquility. Try it, you just might like it.




Thursday, October 6, 2011

Through The Fire

Well, I've successfully finished chemo AND radiation and for that I am more grateful than you could ever know. I have almost completed my journey and ecstatic doesn't even begin to  describe the feeling I have!! If you have followed my blog then you know there were some days I didn't think I'd make it and others I felt on top of the world. It has definitely been a roller coaster ride that I only plan on taking ONCE.

After chemo was over I was ready to party (mentally anyway) because physically the symptoms lingered for quite a while. I tried to rush radiation because I knew the sooner it began, the sooner it would end. Unfortunately, my oncologist made me wait three and a half weeks before my first session. Radiation was a breeze compared to everything else I had been through. What WAS overwhelming about radiation is that I had to do it everyday (Monday-Friday) for six and a half weeks. That's thirty three treatments to be exact. I attended every treatment with my kids in tow and never missed one because I was not going delay my 'happy ending' under any circumstances.

Each week I met with my radiation oncologist and he asked the same questions about how my skin was holding up. Wondering if I experienced any rashes, irritations, soreness, burning, etc. But luckily, I didn't. Further along in my treatment the doctor showed up in the radiation room to check my skin because he couldn't believe I hadn't had any adverse reactions yet. He was pleasantly surprised and I was convinced I would make it through this with flying colors. After all, nothing could be worse than chemotherapy right? RIGHT?!

At that point I only had five treatments left. Each day for a week leading up to that I would tear up each day while laying in the machine thinking of how much I'd been through and how the worst was about to be over and some days I couldn't keep the tears of joy from flowing down my cheeks. Then, with four treatments left, my skin gave out on me. It turned dark in the treatment area, became raw, and then the skin began to peel. This was the demise my doctor kept talking about.

So here I am, it's been three weeks since my last treatment and I never knew it would be like this. I have second and third degree burns under my left arm, on my left side, and now creeping around to my stomach. My flesh is exposed and much of the burn area is still oozing. I can't even begin to think about wearing a bra and the pain is unbearable. The only time I am not in pain is while I am laying still taking shallow breaths and vicadin has become my new best friend. It hurts to laugh, to walk, and especially when I sit down or get up, basically it hurts to move at all. I can't even stand completely upright because as the burns begin to heal the skin tightens and any sudden movements make me crack the skin all over again. Most days I don't even want to get out of bed and I feel as though I am always holding back tears from the pain.

Last night I was talking to one of my friends and she was crying just listening to my story. She said she couldn't believe how strong I was and at that point I couldn't either because right now I'd love nothing more than to just break down. What I have learned, from experience, is that you truly NEVER know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have. So right now I will hold back my tears and continue to be thankful that I've made it through this journey with flying colors and plenty of colorful scars. I have challenged myself to do as much as I can to educate others and have agreed to do my first speaking engagement in two weeks.

If you have been moved by this and want to know if there is anything you can do to help me...ladies, FEEL YOUR BOOBIES. Gentlemen...FEEL SOMEONE ELSE'S BOOBIES....lol. But seriously men, talk to the women you care about and make sure they do self exams and have mammograms regularly.



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Angels

Sometimes life is like a two-lane country road with a huge eighteen-wheeler in front of you. You can't see around it. You can't get around it. Your every attempt to pass has been met by oncoming cars, which makes you seem even more fearful that you will never move on. But what if there was a helicopter above with someone you loves at the controls? Better yet, what if you could communicate with the person in the helicopter? That is what God has already done for us. He can see the whole future clearly. As we communicate with him we can navigate around the big truck and on to the next obstacle in the road.

While this analogy is somewhat simplistic it is a reminder that we are dependent on God.....and even others in general to help us navigate through life. This next series of blog entires will be dedicated to those 'angels' that have been there to help me navigate through this breast cancer journey.



My first angel entry is dedicated to my step-mother Audrey Hall. She has been there with me and for me from day one to even now in ways that only an angel could be. My step-mother has been to every doctor appoinment, every surgery, every consultation, and every meeting imaginable that I've had through this journey. Her calendar is filled with scribbles and scrawlings of each of my appoinments as well as her own. When I tell you that there is absolutely NO way I could do this without her I mean that with everything in me.

She is in the trenches with me when I am low and she soars with me when I am high. Each and every one of my doctors know her by name and many times she has more questions than I do. When I had my first surgery to remove my breasts she sayed in the hospital on the pullout bed next to me each night and day. When the time came for me to be released she took me home with her and there I remained for the next four weeks.

During this time she cooked for me, fluffed pillows, ran errands, picked up prescriptions, made sure I made each and every doctor appointment, lotioned my feet, tied my shoes, took me to the beauty salon, cleaned my drains and measured the ouput then recorded it on the logs, and the list goes on and on. And she did all of this willingly and without even the slightest complaint. I would like to think I was a gracious patient but it was still a lot of work. (Did I mention she even gave me my medicine in those little cups like they give you in he hospital?)

However, in between times we had a lot of laughs and fun and bonding time. We watched soap operas, The View, Million Dollar Money Drop, and countless other shows. We talked and laughed and talked some more. Some days she spent time in her office while I watched movies on my laptop. Either way it goes I enjoyed my time in her care....maybe a little too much because I was definitely spoiled.

We do know that all good things must come to an end and when it came time for me to leave it was bittersweet. I didn't want to leave the comfort of her recliner, those hot breakfasts, the comradery, and the luxury of being treated more like a princess than a patient. But reality awaited me.....besides I missed my kids and they were missing me. The time had come for me to round up the troops and head home. So, as hard as it was to leave, I did what I had to do! Although, there are times I sit and long for the days we sat and talked. I felt like a carefree child with all the attention I wanted.

*SIGH*

To you Audrey, I love you and thank you. Those mere words will never be enough to express all of the appreciation and gratitude I have for how you have taken care of me and for how you care for me but hopefully this tribute begins to let you know how I really feel.


A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Well, it's definitely been a while since I've blogged. It's been a whirlwind of activity with the end of the school year, kids, chemo, and such. I am very excited about the coming of my sixth and final chemotherapy session but on the same note my heart has been kind of heavy and so I shall write.

I cannot begin to tell you excited I am about the end of chemo. The first thing people say when they hear me say I just have one more left is,"So what happens next?" My answer is always the same..."Well then I start radiation everyday for the next six weeks, Monday through Friday," and I get the inevitable *blank stare*. They're looking at me like "So WHY are you excited again?" Well, to put it in a concise manner CHEMO SUCKS. It's one of the hardest things I've ever experienced....and the more chemo you have the worse it gets, and by 'it' I mean my physical state. It has ripped me apart from the inside out. It's to the point now that unless I have to leave the house I spend the majority of the time in bed. I just don't have the energy and I can't even pretend like I do.

I used to enjoy hanging with friends during the upswing in-between chemos but those upswings no longer exist. There used to be about a week and a half time span in-between where I felt okay enough to go out and socialize however that has dwindled down to nothing. Now, when I do go out of the house, I secretly long to be back home. So yea, I'm looking forward to six weeks of radiation.

Amazingly, most people compliment me on how well I look when they see me out and about and that makes me feel good. It balances out those days when I stand in front of a mirror and don't even recognize myself. I've gone through so much these past few years and especially these past six months that it's hard for me to imagine living a 'normal' life again. The most honest thing I could tell you right now is that I feel like damaged goods.

BUT THERE IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL.....

My last chemo WILL be the hardest but I will make it through. I don't know how long it will be before I recover from it but I fully intend to do so. Then, after those six weeks of radiation I will take my battle worn body, come home from this tour of duty to begin civilian life again....and YES dammit I want a parade, with streamers, a band , the whole nine yards!! So look out, I will be back.




Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weak Weary and Worn

Today is a bad day. I'm tired.....very tired and right now my life is hard. I am so physically exhausted I just wish I could crawl under a bed and sleep until this all went away.

This morning I went to the grocery store to get a few things and I literally had to stop and rest against something at least three times because my body ached so badly. I would never wish this kind of suffering on anyone. My feet, ankles, and hand are swollen to the point of pain but right now the worst of my suffering is the mood swings. They're horrible. HORRIBLE....and I feel so helpless because I can't stop them. Even though I know it's coming or I'm in the middle of one I cannot control my emotions. Most of all, I feel bad for my kids. I've tried to explain it to them and they seem to understand but have you ever watched your child come to you for something that seemingly shouldn't be a big deal and you feel yourself about to snap? Your body language tells it all and right when it's about to spew you see them take a few steps back, say nevermind I'll wait, and walk away. HEARTBREAKING yet it happens more often than I am comfortable with.

My daughter Alexis is the one who recognizes my despair when it hits. Everyday she tries to make things easier and more normal for me. She is always hugging and kissing me and checking to see if there is anything I may need. She tries to do things she thinks would allow me to rest. Anything she thinks would help. Right now she is sitting in the kitchen watching eggs boil so they don't burn. It's sweet yet heartbreaking at the same time because she shouldn't have to worry about me. She is the only one who recognizes that today I just can't seem to pull myself together and she hasn't seen even the million tears I've shed in the past hour alone.

Today I wish I could crawl into my mother's arms for comfort.

I am a stranger in my own skin and it sucks. Yes, today is a very bad day. However, as I attempt to pull myself out of this low I will use these lyrics to encourage me:

I've had some good days
I've had some hills to climb
I've had some weary days
And some sleepless nights

But when I look around
And I think things over
All of my good days
Outweigh my bad days
I won't complain





Sunday, April 10, 2011

BEYOND THE BRAZILIAN: The Naked Truth

Well my anxiety is at a record high. Thursday will mark my second chemotherapy session. At the first session my oncologist told me I could expect to begin losing my hair in as early as three weeks. The time has come.

I must say that I've been so focused on finding the perfect wig(s) I didn't lend much thought to the fact that I will also lose arm hair, upper lip hair (yea, I'll admit it), leg hair, and...uh...well, you know. Two days ago I began to notice some excessive shedding and needless to say I got nervous. The good thing is my hair was still intact....I was shedding in the nether regions. I was a bit taken aback because, like I mentioned, I hadn't put much thought into that area. It bothered me a little but I was okay because I still had my top mane intact, although my scalp has become tender and that has my nerves on edge.

Recently, I've noticed myself periodically running my fingers through my hair and looking to see how many strands come out. Well later on, after the shedding incident, I took my wig to the salon so my aunt could taper the edges for me. When I put the wig on I couldn't get it styled the way I had the day I bought it and my tension began to rise. She went in and tapered it where it needed but couldn't get it  styled to her satisfaction either. We were both very obviously frustrated. Her frustration came from the whole 'cancer issue'. The cancer always becomes real for her when it comes to my hair and she cannot handle it. She breaks down. I am trying hard to be understanding but it is a double-edged sword. She has been my beautician my WHOLE life and I don't want anyone else in my hair. We both sat there frustrated and angry, not at each other, but at cancer. So, I gathered my purse, keys, phone, wig and left the salon.....still frustrated. I was mad that I even have to go through this.

Desperately I'm trying to remedy this hair situation and give myself options at the same time, so I decide to let my co-worker and friend create a wig for me using a 27-piece quick weave. We had talked about me losing my hair and she graciously offered to do it for me at the beginning of my battle. Yesterday was the big day. I went to her salon and she placed the stocking cap on my head and got right down to business. I was a long process but when she finished I was definitely pleased with the 'realistic' quality of the wig. I did want it to be a bit fuller in the rear-crown area but that was an easy fix we could do later.

Once I got home, I played with my new wig for a bit then toyed with the idea of trying it out in public at a poetry set I planned on attending. I realized I still wasn't ready mentally to wear the wig and probably wouldn't be until the time came when I HAD to. So I decided to take it off and get ready for a night out with friends. Then  came the real problems. It wouldn't come off. The glue had soaked through the cap and onto my real hair and it wouldn't budge. I began to freak out. I called Toni (my friend who created the wig), I called my aunt, then I called my sister all for advice on how to get myself out of this wig. I ended up using oil sheen in an attempt to loosen the glue. Then I spent thirty minutes in the shower shampooing and conditioning myself into a frenzy still trying to free myself. After an hour I was finally free and relieved but the wig was ruined in the process. I won't even begin to mention the amount of hair I lost in this fight. *HEAVY SIGH*

So here I am, almost three o'clock in the morning blogging because the time has come. Tonight my hair is beginning to shed heavily. I'm just glad I was not alone when it began. Papi was here reminded me that I was 'STILL WOMAN" but was just going through some changes. He threw away the hairball in my hand, told me to leave my hair alone and don't worry about it tonight, wrapped his arm around me and pulled me close to comfort me (Thank you Papi). The entire time all I kept saying is, "This is bullshit!"


It sucks that I have to endure this kind of pain and trauma. THIS IS BULLSHIT. I honestly feel numb. I don't really know what or how to feel. THIS IS BULLSHIT. I knew it was coming, but how do you honestly prepare for something like this....emotionally? So here I sit, blogging my emotions, forced to deal with yet another blow and if you really want to know how I feel.......THIS.IS.SOME.BULLSHIT.


Friday, April 1, 2011

I Give Myself Away

I am sitting here at almost two o'clock in the morning and I am beyond tired but tonight my mind will not let my body go to sleep......so blog I must.

For the past few days I have lived in a body that has not felt like my own. If you read my last blog then you have somewhat an idea of what I am referring to. Today I have spent a great part of the day in my recliner listening to music and happened upon a song by William McDowell titled, "I Give Myself Away". This is the second time in two days that I have happened across this song in the most unusual of ways and I consider it more than coincidental, especially when I listen to the lyrics. They have left me unsettled and I've been thinking and reflecting and thinking and reflecting and thinking some more.....so this is what I have concluded:

I have been dealt this hand of breast cancer for a reason. It was not just by chance that it was given to me. I firmly believe that all things happen for a reason but whether I am privy to the explanation is an entirely different issue. I do try to make sense of the things that happen in my life so that I can learn from them in one form or another. From the beginning of this journey I didn't carry a great deal of fear because MY God would not give me something this hard to bear if he didn't feel I was equipped to handle it. That is my conviction.

Having said that, I believe this song speaks to me for this reason:
  1. I have been struggling lately with the idea of friends and family members who truly have not been there to support me in the way I felt they should and I've been angry about it. If you love me show it, don't say it.  Today I have been able to let that go because of some of the lyrics of this song.
Take my heart
Take my life
As a living sacrifice
All my dreams, all my plans
Lord I place them in your hands

My life is not my own
To you I belong
I give myself, I give myself to you

I give myself away
So you can use me

After focusing on these lyrics my realization is that now I have to sacrifice my struggle as a way to help others. There may be someone who is also going through this and may not have the determination or strength to fight their way through. Knowing that 1 out of every 7 women will suffer from breast cancer tells me that someone who is reading or who has read my blog will experience this tragedy if they haven't already and maybe it could help them. But more importantly, if you can help others in any way DO IT!! There is absolutely no way I could even sit here and write these if it weren't for the people who have helped me along the way. Take time to be selfless. You have no idea the impact it makes in the lives of others.

Tonight my friend Nicki came over, brought groceries and fixed dinner for me and my family. She even picked Zion up from daycare. She fixed each child's plate and just the way they wanted it and even fixed mine and brought it to me. But there was something she did that made me cry....and she doesn't even know it. After doing all that, washing dishes, and cleaning the kitchen she gave Zion a bath for me and put him to bed. It seems so small but it meant EVERYTHING to me in that moment.

Each day you should find some way, big or small, to give yourself away. You never know how much it means to someone who needs it.



Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Beast Within

Well, I have lived through my first round of chemotherapy and that in itself should be reason enough for me to celebrate. Although I am still waiting to come out of the fog it leaves you in, I must admit I am ever dreading the next session. The actual treatment itself wasn't bad. You just sit or lay while several medicine bags are run through your IV or port. It's pretty uneventful. What isn't uneventful is what begins to happen inside your body soon after.

It's hard to even attempt to put into words all of the side effects, mood swings, and psychological aftermath I've already experienced. What makes me ever more fearful is that many survivors tell me that these lingering effects intensify with each treatment. The first effect I experienced was the fatigue. I've never been the kind of tired that I am now. My energy comes in short bursts. They may last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. The bad thing about these bursts is that they are followed by HOURS of fatigue...and by fatigue I mean weakness, lethargy, exhaustion, feebleness and any other words you can think of to describe it. Yesterday I picked up a pile of laundry in my room, collected washcloths from both bathrooms, made my way to the laundry room to place them in the washer and by the time I made it back to my bedroom I thought I was going to die. I was totally winded and the pain in my back was unbearable. I was outdone.

I almost hate to even mention the aches and pains because I ache from the inside out. It starts in my bones and sets up shop there. I ache all over. From my jaws, teeth, shoulders, arms, back, legs, ankles, you name it and it aches. The great part about the aches is that they all seem to intensify at night making sleep an old, distant friend of mine. Sometimes even noise makes me hurt.

The first couple of nights I took Tylenol PM and that calmed things down so I could get some decent rest but for the past two nights I have not been as lucky. I have a headache that has signed a long-term lease inside my head and has a sleep pattern as erratic as mine. You never know when she's gonna wake up and want to play. And, of course, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the fact that my taste buds are going numb. For now I can still experience traces of flavor, but more often than not these days the flavor of food has become distorted to the point of displeasure. I'd almost rather for them to go completely bland than to experience what has happened to the taste of chocolate for me. It's a SIN to do that to something that once brought me so much pleasure.

The icing on the cake are the mood swings. They're disheartening at times, come with a vengeance, never tell me how long to expect them to stay, and wreak havoc on my emotions. Please be forewarned at this present time that I have an extremely low tolerance for bullshit and trivialities. If you find yourself on the receiving end of these emotions take solace in knowing that it's not random. There was something festering underneath the surface before I let loose. My filter is broken and it's going to spew and you probably deserve it so I'm not going to apologize for possibly hurting your feelings. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, know that I STILL love you in spite of your short-comings.

I miss my former self. She is in there somewhere but doesn't get out often. Many times I'll just paste on a smile and fake it. I used to hate it when others would say, "If you can't take me at my worst, then you don't deserve me at my best", however, it has taken on a new meaning for me and is now my mantra.

There is a beast lurking within me so, please, beware....and proceed with caution.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Let's Get Wiggy With It!!

The time has come to face the reality of losing my hair, whether I want to or not. Yesterday my friend Lisa came to my house to pick me up and take me shopping for my first wig. She wanted to be the one to buy my first wig for me. I had stalled at the idea of shopping because it meant facing the reality of being bald. Plus, I have always hating wearing hairpieces, weaves, braids and such all my life. I have an obsession with combing my hair and those who know me well know how deep that obsession runs. In high school I always carried a comb, brush, curling iron, hair gel, and occasionally a small bottle of oil sheen in my purse. EVERYDAY.

My aunt Crystal is the one who should be doing this with me. She's my hairdresser. She's been doing my hair from the beginning of time. In fact, she's not just my hairdresser, she's my aunt and my friend. She's been in my hair since I was 14 years old and knows my obsession better than anyone. For my going away to college present she gave me a gift wrapped box full of various combs and brushes and curling irons. There must've been at least a dozen different combs and brushes in that box and it felt like Christmas. I was the best gift I'd ever received! 

We'd talked about the 'wig journey' a million times. She had done research on new wig techniques and wanted to create one from scratch. Each time we had planned to go something came up. Then finally, one day in the shop, she admitted to the hair portion of this cancer thingy is hard for her to deal with. I let out a heavy sigh. I really wanted this to be something for us to do together but I understood. No more pushing.

Lisa was a god-send because she offered to pick me up and take me. I didn't have to drive...yea!!! We'll we went to Hairmasters and I was immediaely overwhelmed at the sheer number of wigs that were there. I didn't know where to begin. Luckily, she is somewhat of a connoseur of wigs, that's why I'm glad she was there. We picked an aisle and began the search. It really didn't take long because I am very finicky when it comes to my hair. I found three I was willing to try on. The first one I really liked. It was the closest likeness to how I would wear my hair. The second wig was okay. The problem with that wig was that the hair lay too flat. Once I could get into it and curl it I knew I would like it more. I had options since it was a human hair wig. Wig number three did not fair at all. It barely makes this honorable mention. I put it on, looked to the left, then looked to the right. and took it right off. It was a no go!!

So I'm happy to say that I did leave with something that works for me and I like it. There are a couple of places it needs to be tweaked so my aunt will have to do that for me. My oncologist informed me today that in about as early as three weeks I can expect to begin some hair loss. It saddens me deeply but I think I'm kinda ready. 

Now for the gallery of pics:









A Mother's Love

This morning I awaken in preparation for a long day of chemotherapy. While up getting the kids ready for school this morning, Alexis finally gave me her African American History report she had worked on in class and turned in for a grade. Her teacher Lauren told me to be looking for it and recently asked me if I had seen it come home yet. Well, I hadn't and when I asked Alexis about it she gave me the *blank stare*. "Well what was it about?" I asked. "Rosa Parks I think," was her reply. So I let it go without further questioning but wondered what the heck would be so interesting in her report about Rosa Parks that would have her teacher so anxious for me to read it.

This morning, unexpectedly, she hands me the report and it is simply titled "MOM". My mouth drops open and I begin to read. She chose me to do her report on me because I teach her to be a good person, to think of others, and to help when she can. Below is the gist of what she said.

"I picked my mom because she wants me to be a better person."
  • by working hard in school and finishing my work
  • picking up trash off the ground at school
  • by helping the earth be better and clean
  • by not smoking and littering
  • and by not going to jail
The famous person I am writing about is Ms. Fionna Martin. She inspires me to be a good person.

By the time I finished reading her report I was wearing a smile from cheek to cheek with tears in my eyes. She even ended with a newsphoto of me from an article written about me in The Courier-Journal over three years ago!

Motherhood is not easy but it is, hands down, the best thing I have done in my life thus far and I don't have ANY regrets about it. My children are amazing, funny, happy, loving, and definitely crazy but it makes our life good...and interesting!


I end this blog knowing that despite everything that has gone on in our lives, and especially what we are going through right now, she gets it. My happiness comes in knowing that as a parent when I'm not sure they get my life's lessons for them....she DOES!!

So today I pay tribute to my daughter, Alexis Faye Martin, for turning my anxiety into happiness to carry into chemo with me.




Sunday, March 20, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I have received numerous cards and well wishes but none so endearing as the ones I've received from my students. They are heartfelt, sincere, and some are downright funny. Below are some excerpts I hope you enjoy. They have brought me endless joy, especially on the days I'm feeling down.

·       I was worried about you because everyday I ask my mom is Ms. Martin coming and she says no I kinda get mad and a lot get sad. You’re my rainbow.

·       I hope that you’re okay after surgery and I was worried because I thought you wouldn’t able to move but I will pray for your face and fight like a girl.

·        I really hope that you get well soon! I also hope that all of the get well notes take everything off your mind! I was gonna ask if you read my card yet? I don’t want to rush you or anything though! Also I wanted to let you know that we all miss you and want you to come back soon! Things have been okay lately! I mean not perfect but doing good! Kinda just wanted to let you know what’s going on while you are gone. P.S. We’ll be fighting with you!

·        I hope you are feeling well. I miss you very much. I hope you get well and I pray you don’t have to wear that wig. I love you.

·        I hope you surgery went well. Let’s just hope you have a good docter Ms. Martin. Sorry I couldn’t get you real flowers or balloons.

·        I miss you alot and I just want to say that I love you for being my teacher and you taught me a lot through the school year but we all miss you especially me and I magnified your name that’s why my heart is feeled with praise. I love you Ms. Martin. Get well soon.

·         Keep the faith Ms. Martin. Let the Lord guide you. Pray, you can make it.

·        The sun will be here real soon and we all love you. I will pray for your every night. Hope you come back from your vacation soon!

·         Hope you feel better. Cancer fears you.

·         I’m sorry that you have cancer.

·         Hurry back. Just smile. Don’t worry.

·        I know you have breast cancer and I know you will be just fine. After you get your surgery done please don’t stop being funny. You should be on the top #1 funniest show. I’ll miss you.



Friday, March 18, 2011

We've Only Just Begun

As I sit here at my laptop I realize, that even after all I've been through thus far, I've only just begun the journey with cancer. What many who are on the outside looking in fail to realize is that surgery is the easy part. Well, for the most part, unless you're me of course. Yes, I've had some difficulties and some setbacks but it's the chemo that scares me. The not knowing how it will effect my body or how I will react to the treatment is somewhat nerve racking.

I have to be honest in saying that I was not the least disappointed having my chemo pushed back so many times because of my infections and surgeries.....even though my chemo doctor was definitely stalking me. The main reason is because I do not want my hair to fall out. My eyes well up even at the thought, but the time has come.

Tuesday I had my port placed and chemo begins next week *heavy sigh*. The whole process for me was horrible. It was surgery and in my opinion, very invasive surgery, and yet I was awake the entire time. The nurse assured me that she would sedate me and I'd be in and out but it wouldn't be a big deal. She was a liar! First of all I never received any sedation medication through my IV until she heard the first scream escape my lips. That was caused by the doctor plunging the numbing needle deeply into my collar bone area, neck, and then shoulder. It didn't get much better. Those needles had numbed me so I couldn't feel the pain however, I could feel everything else.

I didn't experience the pain of the incision but I could feel them cutting me. I didn't experience pain from the catheter but I definitely felt them pushing their way through my chest and threading it up through my neck and into my main artery near the heart...and there was a LOT of pushing and tugging. At one point all I could do was lay there silently sobbing with tears rolling down my cheeks. This was torture. By the time it was over, an hour and fifteen minutes later, I WAS FURIOUS. I could have fought every single person in the room for subjecting me to that agony. When I got to recovery and they checked my vitals my blood pressure was 194/127 and she didn't understand why *blank stare*. I couldn't wait to get home...or so I thought.

I got home and settled into my bed to rest AND calm down. I was tired and definitely sore.....then the anesthesia began to wear off.  *INSERT EXPLETIVES HERE*. The pain was unbearable. I had to leave the room in order not to cry in front of the kids. I tried to be brave and ride it out but within ten minutes I was calling the doctor. He was of great help. He advised me to take Ibuprofen *INSERT MORE EXPLETIVES HERE*. Luckily I had some vicadin left over from one of my many surgeries so I took two of those and waited patiently for them to take the edge off.
My experiences thus far have been very eventful and even agonizing at times. This is also part of the reason I am apprehensive about starting chemo. However, there is a bigger part of me that is ready to get this show on the road. The sooner all of this behind me the sooner I can get on the road to recovery. So, for now, full speed ahead.



Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prayers of the Righteous

Along my journey I have been truly amazed at the outpouring of love I have received from people. What amazes me even more is that sometimes it comes from the people you least expect, from relative strangers to high school alum to other breast cancer survivors to friends of friends. I have received well wishes, words of encouragement, cards, and prayers from those close to me and many from those who are not close to me at all...except for our christian walk. These words of encouragement make me smile, make my cry, but always help keep me going. I have received countless of these notes. I am still responding to them daily. Here is just a sample of those words. This blog is dedicated YOU for those touching e-mail prayers and words of encouragement I receive daily. I hope you enjoy!

  • Ms. Martin
    You have been on my mind, I've been wondering how you have been doing since your surgery. Then I read your latest blog, I am truly in continued prayer with you & for you.. I am encouraged by your strength, courage, & your ability to still be funny.. You are a fighter & there's no doubt in my mind that the Lord, our God is preparing you for something even greater than you or I could ever imagine.. Keep your head lifted to the hills for which cometh your help, because all of your help comes from the Lord.. I know we are not close & you have a lot of people you can turn to, but if you need anything please don't hesitate to reach out to me..
    Take care, God bless & continue to be encourage as well as encourage those around you!!

  • I just wanted to let you know that you are in my prayers! We serve an AWESOME God and He is a healing God! There is nothing He can't do. We are claiming GREAT health in the name of Jesus! He will make a way out of no way...He has brought me through so much and I know that He will do the same for you! If there is anything I can do for you please don't hesitate to call me! I love you & remember He is ABLE!

  • At church today I could not get you off my mind and they were having special prayer for healing, and I thought; "I should go stand in for Fionna" but hesitated and then my pastor said: "some of you are needing to come and stand in for someone.." So I went immediately Another sister and I prayed for you to be blessed today and for you to receive your healing and I believe it with all my heart and soul. I prayed that you could feel the presence of the Lord all over you right then, I hope that you did I also know that when all of this is said and done God will continue to bless you as you share your testimony Love ya : )

  • I guess life has its way of cluttering your plate and sometimes it is just too much to digest. I had no idea you were going through like this. I pray that God lifts you and I know he has already. I can do something, if you need dinner or food for the kids one nite. Inbox me your address . You are in my prayers Love ya.

  • Believe me Fionna I know what all you are going through and what you are feeling. Just take a deep breath and keep it moving. You will be fine because you have to put your trust in God and know that he has your back. The crazy part of hearing those words ( You have breast cancer) is that the world does not stop. You have to fight it at full force and know that this is not a death sentence. You will get through this and if there is ANYTHING and I mean ANYTHING that I can do for you or if you have questions about anything pls let me know because I am here for you. It was really rough for me when I found out but I made it rough for me because I chose to fight it alone. Making that decision was very selfish and I will never do it again so pls go to support groups because you are not in this alone. I will keep you in prayer and if you need to talk pls give me a call at. Stay strong Fionna because you are a fighter and you will get through this!!! love you girl

  • Hey lady! Just wanted to let you know that you were heavy on my heart today. I heard of your diagnosis and just want you to know that you have another pray warrior praying you through this! I know you are a believer and know the power of God. I am a witness that he is a healer, just went through sickness with my mom. I know you are surrounded by nothing but love. Again, just had to let you know I will be praying for you!

  • I just seen all the post to you and your situation, I just wanted you to know that I am praying for you and believing that God will heal you! You can beat this you are one the strongest and most positive people I know, this is only a test but what a testimony you will have when God heals you!

    You are such a wonderful person I know you may not see the full scope of things right now but this is just another way for you to touch people with your smile and warmth...I know you really don't like people....lol but they love you! Holding you up in prayer.

  • Fionna,
    I am so saddened to hear about your diagnosis but please know that you are not alone. I was diagnosed back in September and had surgery the Tuesday before our reunion. I am now half way through chemo and in early April will start radiation.

    This is a speed bump and you can kick it ass, I know you can. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. I am really great at listening thaws days so if you ever need to just vent, I'm here for you. Call anytime on my cell.

    Stay strong my fellow warrior! 

  • I just want you to know I'm praying for you and your family. Hope you feeling better, you a soldier in the army and God always takes care of his own and he finds favor in those who do his work... may the lord bless and continue to keep you.
  • Today I read your blog an caught up on the couple I got behind on. I was so touched when I read the one about holding your baby in your arms. I wish I could do something more than some damn cupcakes.
    I will make you cupcakes. I will make you dinner. I will make you whatever you think you want. I will take you to a movie, to dinner, to the beauty salon, to drink wine, or any where else you can think of. Don't forget I'm a nurse so I can help you do stuff that no one else can help you do. I worked on the oncology floor at Kosair and I still remember some of my training :)
    If I was not available to help I would not offer, you just have to tell me when and where you need me and what you need me to do.
    Sending love and prayers your way


Saturday, March 5, 2011

To Teach or Not to Teach

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting my students whom I haven't seen since I left to have surgery. They were so excited to see me and I know I was definitely excited to see them. I spent about an hour with them talking to each and every one of them individually. Some of them asked if I was coming back and one student announced that she had heard I wasn't their teacher anymore. We laughed and talked and had  a great visit. I left school feeling like I was on cloud nine. I even had 'brinner' (breakfast for dinner) with my girls and Lauren. I was a great day!!

At least it was until about 8:30pm. It was about that time that I could feel myself begin to delve in to a depression. At first I couldn't understand it especially after the fabulous day I just had. By 11 o'clock I was in tears and cried for at least an hour. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was feeling the stress my colleagues were going through at work. It was so thick in the air you could cut it with a knife. It's that time of the year - test prep time. Every single school in the district experiences this stress during this time of the year. I could recognize the looks in their eyes. It's the same look I would have right now if I were there. They were careful to not burden me with all the instructional ins and outs but I've been through it so many times I would recognize it a mile away. It's the pressure we feel to ensure our kids succeed because these scores are how the public determines how effective we are at our jobs. But of course there is nothing there that measures the noses we wipe, the tears we dry, the encouragement we give, the self-esteem we boost, the hugs we pass out, and the list goes on and on. But for now I have to ask myself the question: To teach or not to teach?

Honestly, thus far the question has answered itself for me because at every turn I have experienced some sort of road block that has prevented me from even considering returning to work right now. As a teacher I felt an obligation to my students more than anyone or anything else. Those are my babies. But my body is shutting me down. I've already got so much stress to deal with that when I think about going back to work I begin to itch. Everyone, including my principal, keeps telling me to take my time and take care of myself first. So as hard as it is to let go sometimes I need to focus on me for a while.



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Hope You Dance

I woke up feeling like a million  bucks! It was my first day without my drainage tubes and I felt liberated. I got up put my face on, my hair was flawless, my outfit was cute, I smelled like a fairy, and the cotton balls were in place. I WAS FIERCE!! It had been so long that I felt this good and it had spread from the inside out.

You're probably wondering why I was getting all dressed up when I'm supposed to be home resting. It was for me. Besides, I had two doctor appointments and was ready to start feeling like my old self again. My first appointment was with the lymphedema doctor to make sure I wasn't experiencing excess swelling as a sign of fluid backing up in the area of my surgery. This appointment was informational but pretty uneventful.....until she scheduled me for three appointments a week for the next three weeks during which she would wrap then unwrap my arm and provide physical therapy to increase my range of motion. Yes, that equals nine appointments. UGH!

But that wasn't the end. I had a second appointment with the oncologist that would be handling my chemotherapy. I could feel the dread begin to creep up on me as I sat for an hour waiting to be seen. I swear I hate these doctor appointments. There are so many and I always experience a feeling of hopelessness. The doctor was a pretty straightforward and didn't show much compassion. Don't get me wrong, he wasn't mean or rude, just direct.

After all the pushing, poking, prodding, and pressure he sat right down and gave it to me point blank. He said the type of cancer I had was pretty aggressive and without anymore treatment I had a 50-60% chance of the cancer returning. Chemotherapy will reduce those chances another 10 to 15% and radiation would begin after four and a half months of chemo. Since my cancer cells also tested positive for the HER2 gene I would also have to take Herceptin treatments intraveniously for a year and tamoxifen for five years to reduce those chances even more. I was numb. I felt all of the air escape my body and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even cry. I just stared at him blankly. I don't even remember what else he said after that. I remember thinking What if I'm going to die?

By the time I left his office I had an additional six appointments added to my calendar and my mortality to think about. I don't have many regrets in life and have been blessed to truly be happy deep in my soul and it's a peaceful feeling. Those tears that wouldn't come earlier have now appeared so through blurry eyes this is what I advise you all to do.
  • Laugh often
  • Follow your dreams
  • Don't settle. You only live this life once and you deserve the best.
  • Love HARD and don't hold back-even if it hurts. Pure love is amazing!!!
  • Don't wait for others to believe in you - BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
  • And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.....I HOPE YOU DANCE!!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-Z1YwaOiw



Monday, February 7, 2011

Cotton Ball Giggles

It's funny how you can swear you'd never do something then lo and behold you catch yourself doing the very thing you swore you'd never do? Well I have found myself in that predicament having experienced breast cancer and sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself.

At the school where I teach there was a retired teacher who used to volunteer a few days a week. It was obvious she had had a mastectomy because she didn't wear a prosthesis and just walked around flat chested. I thought to myself, "There's no way I'd ever do that!"

Soon after my surgery, even before I left the hospital, there was a lady who came by my room and brought me this fancy undershirt with breast inserts for me to wear so I could be comfortable and look 'normal' when I went out in public. It was all packaged in this pretty box and I was ecstatic she did because there was no way I would be caught DEAD in public with no boobs!!! However, I didn't count on having drainage tubes coming from my sides that were attached to my skin by two flimsy stitches that would cause me such immense pain. So much so, I didn't even like to put on clothes. I had three humongous t-shirts that I wore in constant rotation because they were so loose there was minimal contact with the tubes.

Anytime I had a doctor appointment I would put on one of those t-shirts and a pair of pants and go.  Yep, you guessed it.....NO BOOBS! The pain of anything touching those tubes or of one being snagged, pulled, or jostled unexpectantly was too much to take so flat chested I was! The first couple of times I would stare longingly at the pretty box but then I would think of the pain and it always won out. My kids never even gave me being flat chested a second thought or comment because I had explained what was going to happen to me with them in detail. My daughter even asked to see my scar and I didn't hesitate to show her so this was all second nature to them.

Well, I've been home for three days now after a month of separation so my kids have been pretty much underfoot after being separated for so long. Saturday night my daughter was sitting on my bed and happened upon the box. "Mom what's this?" she asked. "Those are my cottonball boobs," was my reply. She looked at me with a confused stare and asked if she  could see. Naturally, I said yes. So she opened the box and there they lay....two big "cottonball-like" spheres. She looked at me, I looked at her and we both broke out into uncontrollable laughter.

Sunday my brother got baptized so I got up, showered, lay my clothes out, and reluctantly opened the box. There was no way I was going to church 'flat'. It was defintely a boob occasion. I got dressed and was ready to leave when Lexi gave me a weird look. I knew she was surveying my new 'curves' so, once again, we broke out into giggles.

Today the doctor removed the drainage tubes and I feel as though I have been set free from bondage. The first thing I thought about was those cottonball boobs and my daughter. Now, if you know me then you know there aren't many limits to my sense of humor. Since she goes to the school where I work and I'm close friends with her teacher I decided to text her teacher so she could tell Lexi I had on my 'cottonballs'. By this time I'm cracking up to myself because I could only imagine what her reaction was going to be. About an hour passes by and I get this response from her teacher, "She gave me a funny look and said No, she only wears those to church!"

Needless to say I burst out into more laughter and my soul has been pleased. Today my wish is that you all have 'cottonball giggles'.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Silent Strength

As a teacher, over the years I have come in contact with some very memorable students. Some pleasantly memorable and others not so much so. Most of the time it's the quietest ones that slip through unnoticed. Not this time.

Avi is a student I had for three years in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. He was always a quiet student, and when I say quiet I mean....'if you don't talk to me I'm not going to say one word to you all year' kind of quiet. Me being the reserved and soft spoken person I am (not) I made it my mission to bring him out of his shell. So everyday I would hug him and make him hug me back, brandish his forehead with kisses, harass him for being a Kentucky Wildcat fan, and call on him in class every chance I got. Needless to say, nothing worked! However, we did develop a great relationship and he would actually smile at me even when he didn't want to....it became an reflex response whenever I smiled at him.

He's in fifth grade now and no longer in my class. However, he makes it a point to stop by my door whenever he's wearing a UK shirt, hasn't seen me in a couple days, U of L lost a game, or just because. When word got out at school that I had breast cancer I received an e-mail from his mom telling how panic-stricken and upset he was. The most touching part of Avi's personality is his sensitivity. She would touch bases with me to see how I was doing, ask if I needed anything, and send Avi's regard. Well, Sunday he came to visit me. He was excited and nervous. I recognized that smile and that panic-stricken look on his face. We sat and had a nice visit during which he only spoke when I spoke first but smiled alot! . He has been keeping up with my blog and actually keeps the most inspiring ones in his binder to remind him of courage and strength. So even though I am not at school with my kids I am content in knowing that I STILL touch lives.



Tuesday, February 1, 2011

STILL WOMAN

This journey has given me a lot of positive awakenings but it has also given me some negative awakenings as well. One of the biggest fears I had going into this was my body image as a woman. The thought of losing my breasts was horrifying and the thought of losing my hair.....well, if you really know me then you already know what that is like!!

Even before I could open my eyes someone had thought about me. That alone is enough to make me feel good. What makes me feel even better is the WAY they thought about me.

"You're still a woman Mami!" Is what my friend said to me when I started my whining one day. "You're just gonna have some changes for a while." He has truly been someone who has supported me emotionally in a way that has brought me through some of my lowest points.

This morning I awakened to a poem he had written for me in my inbox and it honestly brought me to tears. It meant more to me emotionally than words could even begin to express and for this I am thankful that God has placed him in my life. I know he'll read this so Papi....I appreciate and thank you for what you have given me!!

STILL WOMAN
Still..still woman yea I see you walking with your swag
Still talkin' your jive
Still looking good 'cause you have pride
Still swinging them hips from side 2 side
Even if you switch you're.....still woman
Still movin' them lips with powerful but sincere words even the speechless couldn't ignore
Still woman isn't it true why god made blind beauty so pure and fine even the angels adore
Still woman if they took the precious
If they scar'd, torn, ripped away all visual
Your heart still beats like steel
As a man I still kneel because of what you are...
Still woman

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Objects of my Infection

Friday was a day of mourning for me. I'm sure I spent the greater part of the day in tears. First for the inability to pick up my baby and secondly for having lost "MY GIRLS" for the second time.

I went to yet another doctor's appointment to discover I had developed an infection that will cause me to lose the tissue expanders that guaranteed me a set of new and improved boobs.
*HEAVY SIGH*

As I lay propped up on the examination table while the doctor explained that I would have to have another surgery to remove them the tears began to flow. I thought to myself, seriously, can I please catch at least one break here. And I began to mourn. I didn't feel like hearing how in the grand scheme of things they're just breasts and my life was more important or about how I'm so strong and I can make it through this. I wanted to cry HARD and so I did. The doctor stood next to me silently for a while and asked me if there was anything he could do. I wanted to say, "Unless you can pull a perky pair of cocoa colored size D boobs from the pocket of your lab coat and sew them on right now then HELL NO. JERK." But instead I shook my head no and kept crying.

This morning as I sit in my dad's recliner I realize I'm tired. I'm tired of wanting to sit still and not move because if I do something is going to hurt. I'm tired of the pain. So in this moment right now I don't care if I don't get boobs because I just want the pain to go away. Which means that right now I am okay with it.

Don't release your sigh of relief yet because this feeling is not going to last. When the pain goes away I'm going to get mad and be PISSED!!

Wait for it...........