Friday, February 24, 2017

Cancer Free!

Brian and I just got back from a quick (for us) 3 day trip to Houston where I finally heard that my months of treatments worked and I am officially cancer free!  I will go back every three months for the first two years (the risky years), then it slowly comes down to every 6 months, then once a year for the rest of my life to keep monitoring and making sure I am in the clear.
Me in Dr. Rosenthal's office right after I heard the news!
I also had a little bone spur removed from my gums, got information on my bridge, got re-inspired to work harder on my swallow exercises, and no longer have to wrap my arm.  My biggest concerns were simply the minor swallowing issue and how weird my arm feels to now be bandage-free.  I also still have my feeding tube, which was expected.  I know for sure it will be gone at our next visit on May 22nd, though.  I have to be able to maintain my weight for 2 weeks without using it at all.  Right now, I am able to eat more and more real food each day, but we are talking a few small bites of various bland, soft food.  No actual meals.  My weight is down to 135 (I have lost almost 30 pounds since this started - don't judge my weight Cheri and Dani, I am much taller than you both), which is less than I was at my wedding.  People think I am happy when I share this, but I am not.  This is certainly not how I wanted to lose weight (nor did I ever want or need to lose that much for my height and frame), and I look bad.  Like, sickly weird thin (for me) with no muscle tone versus healthy glowing thin and fit, which is what I want.

My plan is to start a regular regimen of walking and low-effort yoga.  I have to start very small since I have no energy and have lost all my muscle.  I'll get it back, though.  Just knowing that I am in the clear and don't have to start back up on that that horrible treatment makes me so positive and excited about the future.

I have slowly been getting my taste buds back, so that will help with eating as well.  It is hard to make yourself eat when you can't taste the food - the enjoyment is completely gone.  While we were in Houston, I ate one Reese's peanut butter cup - slowly and in tiny bites - and when the peanut butter taste exploded in my mouth I almost cried.  I can barely taste chocolate at all, but that peanut butter was so vibrant!  It is funny the things we take for granted, huh?

My swallowing concern is a minor one, but still a big deal.  Though my ability to swallow drinks and food has increased dramatically the past few weeks, I am told it will be a life-long struggle.  My speech therapist said some people come back 20 years later and describe new issues.  I have head and neck exercises, as well as swallow exercises that I do every single day to try to help.  So my issue right now is that when I drink a liquid, some of it is able to get into the area where my voice box is located since my muscles don't pinch shut as tightly as they once did.  This causes me to have to clear my throat after every single sip of water.  I need to do my swallow exercises multiple times a  day now to hopefully counteract that issue and make my muscles stronger in that area.
This one is not me, but we got to watch a video of my barium swallow study that looked just like  this - it was pretty cool.
I bought an MD Anderson t-shirt while we were there.  It is funny, I have seen them for months and I told myself when I got good news I would buy one and wear it proudly.

There is also this sign right by the check-in desk at the Head and Neck Center where many of my appointments have been over the months - including my very first one.

Over the months I have read that sign with varying emotions - doubt, annoyance, anger, inspiration, etc.  This trip, I saw it and smiled.  For the first time, I actually felt like a survivor rather than just a fighter or a depressed patient (let's be real).  It was a good feeling and it struck me how that one little sign tracks my emotions through this journey so well.

We got home from the airport around 11pm, but I had to go in and hug the kids.  Brian and I laid on top of them in their beds (I know, we are nice parents) and woke them up to say we were home and reiterate my good news (Mom told them as soon as we found out - Jeremy was so nervous).  When I got back to my office, I found the huge sign below, and I received so many sweet texts, emails, cards, and hugs from my staff, colleagues, and bosses at work.  So sweet.

I am relieved, happy, and exhausted.  I feel like anyone who has fought cancer can understand this perfectly, but the waiting continues.  I think I will be waiting forever.  I will be tested the rest of my life...just to be sure.  I hope so much that I never have to go through that again, and I feel really confident that I won't, but the possibility remains and always will.

My goal now is to turn my attention to living my life in the best way possible.  Surviving cancer does not magically make me a better or more profound person, but I am going to do my best to live my life more fully and to live up to the many prayers and kind words bestowed on me by so many during this struggle.  I want to give back more than I have been given and be the person who truly deserves the blessings I have received.  I hope that I can take this experience and make it serve a lasting purpose beyond the scars on my tongue, neck, arm, and leg.  I want to leave my own marks and now is the time to figure out just how I want to make that happen.

I am so grateful just to have the opportunity.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Heart Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day was yesterday, and it was a lovely day!  I pretty much adore all holidays, and I seem to have passed that gene down to my daughter.  I love seeing how excited she gets.  Jeremy is as well, but he is not as interested in the details or the extras like his sister.

We made class and work valentines last weekend.  I love the classic cardboard notes that come 30 for $1 and include stickers and tattoos galore.  I know they are cheesy and not Pinterest Mom approved, but I love them, probably for that very reason.  We always attach an extra treat, and this year it was conversation candy hearts for the kids and blow pops for my work people.  Vi had Trolls, Jeremy Star Wars, and I went with Scooby Doo!

What my desk looked like at the end of the workday.  I love my staff.
We also encouraged the kids to do a service project, so they chose to make a "Love Pack" of food items to give to the donation site on campus.  It was sweet - Jeremy shopped for the items, and Violet made a Valentine that she decorated painstakingly for the box.

The night before, I made our traditional heart cakes.  I almost forgot about them completely, but the kids love them and their excitement reminded me, which also made me happy even though I stayed up to midnight making the silly things.  They turned out good though.  I even managed to eat two small bites - yummy!

My contribution was cakes and cardboard cards, but my lovely husband outdid me by a mile and got real gifts.  A rubix cube for Jeremy, a sock monkey for Violet, and a travel cup and two new books for me!!  Local authors writing mysteries set in this area - so fun!  Thanks, Brian!

We also went out to see the Agatha Christie play, Murder on the Nile, that was showing at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts on campus.  It was super cute and funny with very talented cast members.  I enjoyed getting dressed up and going out.  It feels like ages since we did that.  I was uncomfortable and a bit yucky by the end (that damn tube is simply not comfortable stuffed under a fancy dress), but I still had a great time with my hubs.  Thanks to Jenn for babysitting the monsters!

More than ever, this year I want all my family to know how much I love them.  I could not walk through this life without their love, support, and humor.  I know every single day how blessed and lucky I am to have the people I do in my life.  My mom, my siblings, my children, and my amazing husband.  I am humbled by all you give me every day of my life to keep me afloat.  I love you.  More than you will probably ever know.  Thank you.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hopper Happenings

We have had some pretty fun adventures and projects the last few weeks.  I still can't exert a ton of energy all at once, but I am getting stronger and stronger.  Here are some of the things we have been up to since Brian and I got back and tried to return our little family to some sense of normalcy (but what does that even really mean?):

First up, I got their school pictures!  No one from our revolving kid care group could remember seeing the proofs, so Cheri just ordered them blind at the end of last year.  They are hilarious.

Violet had her first school friend come over for a play date.  Honey is her best friend at school and we actually invited her for a slumber party, but she was a little scared of leaving her mom.  So adorable.  The girls had a great time together and Violet felt special after watching Jeremy bring home friends from school for so many years now.  Cute girls!

Mommy and Daddy's bed has for some reason become the place to be.  Perhaps it has something to do with the lovely new bedding mom got me for Christmas.  Anyway, the kids are in my bed all the time reading  and using the iPad.  They also like to play games, like War below, and Guess Who in there.  So silly.

Violet was named Star Artist at school for her robot picture.  I have not actually seen that piece since it is hanging up at school, but here is a different work of hers, showcasing her dream of being an artist.

Jeremy went to a friend's birthday party at the Ole Miss pool.  He was the only boy that came even though the whole class was invited - weird.  Brian said he had a blast and the girls were delighted to see and play with him.  They brought out the hamster ball and he loved it!

Violet had her second Princess Ball and her daddy took her on an excellent date to go dancing and eat Chik-fil-A at the ball.  She loves getting her hair curled, putting on makeup, and wearing her princess dresses out of the house.  Very cute.  I am glad things like this exist.

My mom has come to stay with us several times because she is wonderful.  We took Violet and saw La La Land at the movies and then did some shopping for clothes since I have lost some weight.  It was really cute.  I wish mom came every weekend!

I am just so delighted to be home with my family that sitting and just staring at the kids while they play makes me happy.  Ugh, so happy to be home!!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Texas Christmas

I am incredibly blessed to have the family that I do.  When they heard I needed to be in Houston for radiation over the holidays, it was an immediate decision to move all the family festivities to Texas, regardless of expense or inconvenience.  I felt bad when I heard everyone was coming since i knew it was a lot of money and trouble, but I was also so happy and excited.

Cheri found an amazing house for rent on AirBnB and we were amazed at how wonderful, huge, and beautiful it was.  It was decorated for the holidays and had plenty of bedrooms for everyone - me and Brian and our kids, Cheri, Alex, Penelope, Mom, Joey, Megan, and Dani.  I don't remember the last time all of us were under the same roof for Christmas, so despite the yucky reason why, it was such a wonderful decision to be together.
Lots of stockings and presents - and look Aunt Dani on Skype on Christmas Eve!
Cheri and Joey and Penelope arrived first.  They drove all night long from Memphis so that Penelope, who gets car sick, could sleep through the trip.  Luckily it worked, and little miss arrived without car trauma.  They picked up Alex from the airport in Houston since he flew down directly from NYC (poor guy had a horrible experience getting to the airport that morning at like 3am).  They were even in time to accompany me to my radiation appointment.  It was nice to show Cheri my process and introduce her to my radiation team.  Penelope was so cute and I let her check me in with my card on the scanner.

Mom, Megan, and my babies arrived that afternoon, and I cannot even describe my joy at seeing my precious kiddos.  They ran out of the car and right into my arms.  I don't think I could have made it through Christmas without them at this age- it is just too special a time to miss.

my girl
my boy
Poor Dani had to sing in Christmas Eve Mass as a part of the choir, so she did not arrive until Christmas morning, but luckily she got her flight for only $5!!  It was not a true family Christmas until she arrived.

The first few days were spent in some final shopping, exploring the house and yard, and just hanging out with each other.  I was under the weather and very tired/sore/nauseous from radiation and chemo, but even when all I could do was sit on the couch and watch, it was so nice to see and hear my family around me.  Violet and Jeremy had a blast playing, but they would gravitate back toward me every few minutes for a hug or a cuddle.  I love them so much.
family time on the swingset


poor uncle alex

first time eating Whataburger!

he eats hamburgers like a crazy person

took the kids to MD Anderson for a tour - they loved seeing it after everything they have heard

fire pit in the backyard

Aunt Megan came prepared with art supplies

How perfect is this picture?  Penny loved Jeremy.

Mom and Megan

Cheri and Joey

roasting hot dogs and marshmallows


more cuddles

Christmas Eve is the best, and the kids had a blast making cookies for Santa and getting to open their one early gift (always jammies!!) - sometimes I think Christmas Eve is almost better than Christmas Day.
making cookies
poor Santa...

She was so excited about her Charlie Brown nightgown that she stripped down and changed clothes right then.

Oops - I can't keep up with how tall that kid is getting.

3 cousins in Christmas Eve jammies!!

Who doesn't love a grown-up onesie?

Santa Claus had quite a haul at this house!  Penny had an awesome tent, train track set, and fun toys.  All items small enough to get back via plane to New York.  That Santa sure knows his stuff.
Santa came!
Penny's haul
Violet got her Barbie dream house (!!), several toys, and two stockings full of fun thanks to my Ole Miss crew joining in the fun.

Jeremy got a MEBO robot, a H-scale model train set, and two stockings full of goodies as well.

The kiddos woke up and we all walked downstairs together.  They were so excited!!

We waited until Aunt Dani made it to the house before we opened presents - so many presents!

It was just an absolutely perfect Christmas.  I love my mom and my siblings.  I need my kids.  Brian and I both needed other human beings to talk to.  Even with tube feedings, neck radiation burns, and chemo fatigue and nausea, it was the best Christmas ever because we were all together.  It was always going to be hard with Dad not being there this year for the first time, but I think being out of town and with each other made that loss less sad and more just poignant.  His stocking and his love and humor were present in every face and laugh in the room.  Death, cancer, whatever - our family can handle it because our roots go deep and we love one another more than anything.  We are lucky and we are blessed.  Merry Christmas!