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 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.