Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ringing Out The Old

. . . and what a great Christmas season it was!

I thoroughly enjoyed this Christmas season! Hubby and I got an early start on our Christmas shopping but, even at that, there was the usual last minute rush of Christmas shopping, wrapping, baking, shipping that each year brings. I guess it wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Just prior to the holidays, I reopened my Aroma Fields Etsy shop and also updated and reopened my boutique website at Aroma Fields Candles & Bath at I had missed making my products and shipping them to customers and figured that if I could fill a few orders now and then throughout the holiday season, it would really make my holiday shine. To my surprise (and delight!), the orders poured in throughout December and there were certainly more than I ever expected. What a wonderful way to end the year!

My hubby also had a total knee replacement on December 1st. He's been home recuperating since and is making terrific progress. I'm eager for him to completely heal so I can see him walk normal again and without pain. It's been a long time. He's certainly feeling productive now and wanting things to do. Today, he went out to the garage and made a 2 pound soap loaf mold out of wood for me. So sweet! I can't wait to use it!

I'll be getting a routine CT Scan on January 13th to find out how I'm doing...and, of course, I'll be praying that the cancer is still gone. Every day of good health is a gift I've been given.

And, as this day draws to it's close, my wish for everyone for the new year is to have good health, much happiness and that every day brings a new cherished memory. We'll be sitting in front of the television tonight watching the ball drop in Times Square in New York City. And as the clock strikes the midnight hour, we'll ring out the old year with a kiss and welcome the present year with open arms, with eyes filled with new dreams and hearts replete with new expectations.

Happy New Year!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Year Ago Today

. . . Reflect And Rejoice

I cannot let this day go by without acknowledging that one year ago, on this date, I was undergoing an 8 hour surgery known as the whipple. My husband, children, grand children, older brother and sister were there. We all caravaned up to the hospital that morning. Upon being called into the pre-op room, I gave each one of them hugs. Prior to the surgery, we were told that, upon opening me up, the surgeon will see the extent of the cancer and determine if the surgery could even be performed. Thus, we were all on pins and needles as to whether my life could be saved. The passing of my younger brother just 15 months prior weighed heavy on my mind. He had passed from stage 4 duodenal cancer. He was to undergo the whipple surgery but, upon opening him up, the doctor discovered that his cancer was too advanced. His was stage 4 and he was given 6 months to live. I watched him die. Was it my turn?

When I opened my eyes, I saw the loving, smiling faces of my family as they leaned over me. The first thing I asked was, "Did I get the whipple surgery?". They told me I had. The cancer was caught in time.

I woke up early this morning reflecting on that day and the two months that followed. Complications such as infection and leakage (of organs that were surgically re-plumbed) caused my stay in the hospital to exceed the 8 days we were orginally quoted. I was there for 32 days. Fortunately, I was able to go home in time for Christmas, though not able to really enjoy it. I ended up back in the hospital only after having 5 days at home. My digestive system wasn't cooperating. It didn't know which direction things were suppose to go. I felt so horrible, I remember telling my husband that "no one should have to feel like this..ever!". So, after another week in the hospital, I came out more able to adapt.

It's been a year now and, after going through the follow up chemo treatment and it's icky side effects, doctors visits, tests, chemoradiation and more side effects (I'm still itching all over and have to take medication every 4 days to make it stop) . . . I'm very thankful to the doctor who saved my life. Or, at the very least, gave me a longer life to live than what would have been. I'm certain that my guardian angel (my younger brother), had a hand in it, too. Pancreatic cancer is usually caught too late and, I believe, my guardian angel allowed me to feel the pain at an early stage so that I would see a doctor and could be given the chance he never had. I love you, Art.

I'm truly blessed.

This holiday season, I'll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner, shopping for Christmas gifts, wrapping, decorating, baking goodies, making some handmade (crocheted) gifts, working on my little candle/soap business . . . and enjoying the full festivities in good health. I hope your holiday season is wonderful, too!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Back To Business

. . . Because I Can
. . . . Because I Want To

As most of you know, I had to shut down my little candle and soap business due undergoing cancer surgery, recuperation and treatments this past year. I've been blessed with much better health and, while I feel terrific and am consumed with the need to be productive, I've reopened my online business locations. I'm excited to be back to making great smelling, all natural products and, while I'm at it, my home smells fabulous!

You can now find me at Aroma Fields Candles & Bath and Aroma Fields Candles & Bath at Etsy where I offer my handmade, clean burning, highly scented soy container candles, wickless candles, tarts and tealights ...beautiful, ambient, scented palm wax pillars ...handmade, skin-loving, all natural goat milk soaps (scented and unscented) in bars, guest and gift soaps ...and lip-a-liscious, all natural, handmade lipbalms. I carry tart burners, candle warmers and gift sets at Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

For those who come to my blog to read only about my cancer realted health updates, I will continue to post them as ongoing tests are performed and/or any new health issues are discovered. I realize that the information can benefit some who are going through (or have a loved one going through) the same thing. Please, feel free to side-step the posts that are relative to my online boutiques as it is not my intention to peddle my products to you.

May we all enjoy a blessed holiday season!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Tie A Purple Ribbon 'Round The Old Oak Tree

My daughter is going through nursing school and, as she is in her last year of school, she's been doing her clinicals at a local hospital. She shared with me that on Friday, a 63 year old man walked into the hospital seeking help as he had jaundinced and didn't know why. After some testing, he was told that he had Stage IV pancreatic cancer and with only 6 months to live. He had no other symptoms aside from the jaundicing. This is all too common of this particular cancer.

Psssst!....can we talk? . . .

Each year, about 42,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, each year, about 35,000 die from this disease. The vast majority of individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within three to six months. With a mortality rate somewhere between 96 and 99 percent, precious few survive this dance with death. Pancreatic cancer remains the 4th leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., however it receives much less funding than any other leading cancers.

We have witnessed tremendous advances in some of the other leading cancer mortalities in the past 30 years. Breast cancer, for example, which had a five-year survival rate of 75 percent in 1974, is currently just under 87 percent. Prostate cancer survival moved from 67 to almost 99 percent. Pancreatic cancer, meanwhile, remains stagnant.

Early detection techniques are not a routine consideration in health care. Given its location, any abnormalities in the pancreas are not likely to be found during an annual physical exam. There is no accurate blood test available. It becomes a concern only when symptoms are manifest, usually too late for curative treatment. Another reason for this lack of awareness stems from the high mortality rate of pancreatic cancer. There are so few survivors that the critical mass necessary for mounting a national awareness campaign is severely lacking. It is very difficult for those who have lost loved ones to pick up the mantle and carry on this fight. Most will seek closure and healing. The second distinctive feature of pancreatic cancer is the lack of adequate research funding. Thank God that some choose to continue the battle.

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network ( is a national advocate for this deadly disease. I learn much from this site and gain much needed hope from their Survivor stories. I too am a survivor in that I had early enough symptoms which allowed me to undergo a surgery that may end up being my cure. I can hope, anyway. Or, at least, I was blessed with more time...other's aren't so lucky. The people at are doing all they can to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer but they can't do it alone. With November being Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, perhaps you may want to go to to see what you can do to help. You can go here to watch a very short public service announcement video to learn more. And, even if you don't look good in purple, maybe you could wear a small amount this month :-)

I'm thankful for the additional time I've been given and I live it one day at a time . . .

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Follow Up

. . . ending on a positive note!

After my surgery and throughout the past 10 months, I would regularly meet with my Oncologist and, although he would always tell me that I looked great [considering what I'd been through], he would consistently relate the depressing statistics of this horrible disease. I would long for some hope; something to let me know that there just might be a chance that I could end up in the 20% group who survive this cancer. I understood that he could never obligate himself to predicting a positive outcome...but how hard would it have been to say that "yes, there is always a chance you could beat it."?! During one visit, he even went so far as to tell me that, in the end, I'll readily accept death. Eeeeeekkk!! At the end of each visit, I'd head home with a heavy cloud over my head. It was difficult to thwart the desire to just curl up on my bed in morbid depression, gazing out my bedroom window at the breeze blowing the graceful trees....thinking that there was no doubt I'd be leaving this beautiful life soon. My family was wonderful in helping me to gain back my positive attitude. It normally took about 3 days. But there was always that lingering death sentence echoing in the halls of my mind.

With the completion of my treatments, I was due to see my Oncologist for a follow up this week. Knowing that this would be the last time I'd see him (or any other doctor) for quite some time, I didn't want to leave with that heavy, dark cloud again. I didn't want to go home in depression and live the rest of my remaining life never able to plan ahead, always hurried to finish a project for fear it would never get done, looking at my son and knowing I'd never meet his bride or see his children...and trying to accept the idea of death......I just didn't want to live like that! I was determined to tell my Oncologist that I wanted (desperately!) to end this visit on a positive note....and I would tell him why it was so necessary. Sometimes, doctors (brilliant as they may be) don't realize that their bedside manner just plain sucks!

On Tuesday, this week, I visited with my Oncologist and it was very different than anything I'd experienced. He read the results of my blood work and told me he was delighted at how good they were. He shared with me that I'd done extremely well through the treatments over the past several months. He gave me the impression that most pancreatic cancer patients don't make it through the treatments without having the cancer come back. I was already an exception. For that, he said, he held more hope for me than normal. He shared with me about an 80 year old patient who was also at a Stage 3, had been through the same surgery and treatments as I and who is already 3 years in remission. All of this...every bit of it!...was fabulous to hear! I left there with wings on my feet, ready to take flight and LIVE!
I can now feel that if I spend money on some new clothes, it won't be money wasted. I can get a cute hair cut to make the short re-growth (from the loss of hair due to chemo) match up more to the long strands that I didn't lose. (Yes, there truly IS a strong resemblence to Bill the Cat!). I can now buy new prescription glasses so I can SEE!! The medications over the past year have caused my vision to weaken horribly. I have hope that I will be able to see my son get married and to be the wonderful Dad I've always known he'd be. And I'm so very pleased that my family has this wonderful news so that they no longer have this stress in their lives.

What's Next:

I'm looking forward to this horrible head-to-toe itching to go away! It's an allergic reaction to the Xeloda chemo pills I had to take. The medication they gave me to eliminate the itching (Lord, I hate medications with a passion!) makes me very sleepy but gets rid of the itching for about 4 days..then it comes back. The doctor said that eventually, the itching will stop. I hope so!

Also, I'll be meeting with my Oncology Surgeon on November 5th to discuss fixing the incisional hernia that developed after the surgical site healed. It's uncomfortable. Sometimes, it feels like I'm carrying my stomach outside of my abdomen. Ugh!

And then...I'll get a CT scan in January to see how things are going.

It's all good :-) I appreciate all the emails, support and prayers so much! Please keep them coming...they are obviously working!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chemoradiation - One More Day

. . . Removing My Last Training Wheel

Though I have one more day of radiation treatment to go, I thought I'd post this update today since 1) I have more time on my hands today ...and 2) because tomorrow will be no different than any other treatment day except that it's my very last.

I've spent the past 5 weeks taking two Xeloda chemo pills each morning after breakfast...(and I'd put off breakfast as long as I could because I did NOT relish the side effects of these nasty pills!). In the afternoon, I'd drive 30 minutes to the hospital for my radiation therapy. After dinner, I'd have to take 3 more Xeloda chemo pills. I did this regimin 5 days a week...and got to recuperate each weekend.

How was the radiation? Laying on the hard table with my arms over my head (holding onto two cold, steal handles), the table automatically slides into
a small tube that encircles the area to be treated. Then the radiation starts. I can hear the machine churning as it goes around my body throwing it's piercing rays through my abdomen and back. There's no feeling to this, however. As I lay there in the tube for the 5 minute treatment, I pray that this will be the very last treatment I'll ever need to have. I pray that this cancer never returns. The side effect from the radiation are minimal but enough to keep me homebound as it affected the intestinal tract and stomach. In the evening, my stomach would feel like it had been tied in a knot and the build up of gas was enough to blow the paint off the walls. (Okay...I didn't want to go that far...but if someone going through this is looking for info, they may want to know that their side effects are a normal part of this treatment).

How was the Xeloda chemo? The side effects from these pills are cumulative. In the beginning, I experienced headaches, nauseousness, moodiness, a tired/sleepy feeling and I felt withdrawn. It was doable but with an effort to stay cheerful. As each day progressed, the tired/sleepy feeling became more intense.
Eventually, I even had to give up doing my crochet as I couldn't concentrate on the pattern. I wasn't able to keep up with responding to emails I had recieved from caring friends or phone calls from loving relatives. At the beginning of the 5th week (last week), I was extremely tired, very moody, not much of an appetite and an overall feeling of "I just don't freakin' feel good!".... my hands and feet began to burn, tingle and itch...and the horrible itching spread over my entire body. The more I scratched, the deeper the itch dove causing it to itch even more. I called the doctor who told me to go off the pills. It's been 4 days since I've been pill-free and I'm still itching, though it doesn't seem to be quite as bad today. The great news is that I no longer feel tired, nauseous, moody or withdrawn. I'm nearly back to normal and I can't begin to tell you how good that feels!

I will have a CT scan in one month to see how things look.

Yes, tomorrow is my last day and, although it will be no different from the past 5 weeks, I already feel a sense of freedom, renewal...and anxiety. I have to learn to live my life without the fear of this cancer returning. That's going to be tough. Maybe without the therapies in my face each day, I can focus much more on other things. Your prayers are still so very appreciated!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fried Spaghetti

. . . With Fried Eggs
(Down Home with Mama)

Hubby and I always look forward to having leftover spaghetti because it means that tomorrow night's dinner will be fried spaghetti with fried eggs. This is a yummy combination that my Mom use to make back in the good ol' days (when Chevy cars had large, fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror, skate keys were worn around the neck on a string, everyone wanted to be Annette Funicello.....but I digress) . . .

For those who have never heard of fried spaghetti, you simply must give it a try!
You'll need:

Any amount of leftover spaghetti (sauce and spaghetti already mixed together)
Olive Oil (or oil of your choice)
Shredded Cheddar Cheese (or cheese of your choice)

Over medium to high heat, pour into a frying pan enough oil to cover the bottom. Let this heat for about a minute or two. Add the spaghetti to the pan and spread it out so it can fry nicely. This is where I like to sprinkle a handful of shredded cheddar cheese over the top so it can melt in.

As if you were frying hash brown potatoes, turn the spaghetti now and then so that it becomes brown and as crispy as you like.

When finished, serve with fried eggs. Throw in a few biscuts and you are living down home!

Bon Appetit!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath
~Marilyn's Silly Website~

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Knit Tops For Cheyenne & Berlyn

...Another Fun Grandma Project
(Aren't they just sew pretty?!)

Just as I took Sydnie shopping for her choice of pattern and fabric (and she chose the Snoopy Pajamas which are shown here), I also took my two older grand daughters, Cheyenne and Berlyn. Both are teenagers, thus, are a bit more particular about the style of clothes they wear. The patterns they chose required a knit fabric.

Berlyn chose a beautiful teal knit fabric and wanted the pockets trimmed with white lace. This blouse is long in style and meant to be worn with a tank top and either leggings or skinny jeans.

Cheyenne (who has always loved tigers!) chose a tiger print knit fabric and wanted it trimmed with black knit fabric. She'll wear hers with a tank top beneath and cute jeans.

I finished these two blouses last week. Shopping with my grand daughters to have them pick out their own patterns and choice of fabric is so much fun. Maybe we can do it again soon.

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Over My Dead Pancreas!

... Give Me More Health Problems...NOT!

Prior to beginning the radiation/chemo, which is the next phase of treatment, I met with the Radiologist Oncologist for a consultation.
When he shared with me that he was going to radiate my entire (remaining) pancreas which offers a guarantee that I would become a moderate to severe diabetic, I froze in my chair. Hell no! I put the treatment on hold while I took the time to talk with other doctors. Truly, in all the research I've done, I've never found any incident where the outcome was as drastic as what he was about to bestow upon me. Further, I was consistently finding information stating that radiation therapy was controversial; that it's benefits are so minimal that Great Britain had discontinued it's use for pancreatic cancer treatment.

I realize there are others in worse condition than I...those who would allow their pancreas to be fried and fed to the neighbors dog for a chance to live a few extra years. But what I'm discussing here is specific to my situation...someone who has been given the gift of life of a few more years OR, by the grace of God, may end up in the low percentage of survivors who live well beyond 5 years.

In meeting with my Oncology Surgeon, he shared that radiation therapy, in fact, not only offers minimal benefit but in some cases, can make things worse. He talked with the Radiation Oncologist and insisted that he did not want me to become diabetic, given the very high risk that this cancer will return and quality of life is a factor. He does believe that we should do all we can as it is a standard therapy for pancreatic cancer in the United States (which is much lacking in current research!!). So now the radiation will be isolated to the surgical sight of the pancreas only. This will offer a much, much lower risk of becoming diabetic.

I'll now take this therapy and it begins August 17th. Even though the statistics dictate that this cancer will return, thus, my prognosis isn't very good, there's a 20% chance that I could survive this and live a long life. The 20% group of survivors had radiation therapy...I'll follow the herd. I wouldn't want to end up with the cancer coming back and wondering "what if...". You know, that 20% group is there for a reason. I plan to be part of it!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Jam, Pickles and Onions - Oh My!

Home Canning and Preserving . . .
(Yes, I Can!)

During the Summer, I finally quenched a desire to do some home canning. I've always wanted to but never took the time to learn. In searching for the information, I realized that the process wasn't that difficult. Following the proper recipes, canning can be a safe and fun experience...and a delicious reward!

Along with making bread & butter pickles and some red onions in red wine vinegar, I found a recipe for strawberry jam that only takes half the amount of sugar. It tastes wonderful and you can't even tell that the sugar is reduced. It makes 6 to 7 half pint (8oz)size jars and goes like this:

You will need:
6 cups crushed strawberries
4 cups sugar (instead of the usual 7...eek!)
1-1/2 packages Ball No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin
4 Tbsp lemon juice

1.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
2.) MIX 1/4 cup sugar with the No Sugar Needed Pectin. Set remaining sugar aside.
3.) COMBINE crushed strawberries, lemon juice and sugar/pectin mixture in a 6 or 8quart saucepan. Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. It should take about 5 minutes to come to a full boil that cannot be stirred down.
4.) ADD remaining sugar and boil again for one minute, stirring frequently. (If you bring it back to a full boil fairly slowly (on medium heat rather than high) that will help reduce foaming).
5.) SKIM off any excess foam. (Foam... What is it? Just jam with a lot of air from the boiling. But it tastes more like, well..foam, than jam, so most people remove it).
6.) LADLE hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.
7.) PROCESS in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

My younger daughter and I got together and also made some tasty Spirited Blueberries (a lucious topping used over pancakes or ice cream . . .) and some spicy salsa (yum!). Home canning is a great way to spend time together in the kitchen and these homemade, yummy items also make great gifts.

I highly recommend a book called "Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving".

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Over One Hurdle

CT Scan Results

After finishing the 6 month Gemzar chemo treatment, I had a CT scan yesterday to learn how well (or not) I'm doing. Today, I met with my Oncologist to get the results.
He explained to me that if the cancer were to return, it would return in the liver or the lungs. The CT scan showed that all was clear, I'm cancer free. While a small (1 cm) lesion showed on the body of the pancreas, my Oncologist doesn't think it's anything to worry about. He shared with me that it's rare that pancreatic cancer would return in the pancreas.

Anyway, I had a feeling I would get a thumbs up on the test results as I've been feeling great and gaining weight quite readily the past month. So, today I'm cancer free and I'll take each and every day, one by one, as a special gift.

WHAT'S NEXT: As another precaution to keep the cancer from returning, I'm suppose to start radiation/chemo (combo) treatment within the next couple of weeks.

Now...back to the sewing machine!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Snoopy PJ's For Sydnie

A Grandma Project

One of the things I enjoy most is picking up my three grand daughters and taking them to Jo-Ann's Fabric store so they can pick out a pattern and material. I love making things for them...and they always seem excited to be able to wear something that is custom made just for them; something they chose. We went to Jo-Ann's last week. Sydnie, my youngest grand daughter (age 11) wanted pajamas and was very specific about the style she wanted. The top had to be button up, not slip on, the bottoms needed to be shorts. Flipping through the Simplicity pattern book, we found just the right one. She then went to the pattern drawer and pulled the pattern. When I told her she could pick from many kinds of fabric for this pattern, she knew exactly what she wanted. It had to be snuggly soft flannel. She chose the cute Snoopy fabric and decided she wanted yellow buttons to trim.

After working on them during week, I gave the finished PJ's to her today. She tried them on and ran around the house giving everyone a hug so they could feel how snuggly soft they were. I got a big hug and a sweet "thank you". I told her she did a wonderful job picking just the right pattern and fabric. She looked so cute in them.

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Final Chemo Infusion Today

...One Training Wheel Removed!

It surely goes without saying that I am absolutely thrilled that today I recieved my very LAST Gemzar chemo infusion! To a point, it's bittersweet. While I'm glad to no longer have the weekly, painful iv, burning chemo infusion and icky side effects...I feel vulnerable. It's as if I've lost one training wheel that was keeping me upright and stable and now thrust into being more on my own to accept whatever will happen. But I'm still very excited and thankful to have it behind me!

The nurse I had today told me I'd already been blessed. She shared that she rarely sees pancreatic cancer patients in the chemo infusion room because, normally, pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed too late for any treatment to be helpful. She said that I'd already been given a miracle. I sort of felt that way early if my deceased younger brother (who passed from duodenal cancer just 15 months prior to my diagnosis) had a chat with God to insure that I'd receive the chance he never got.

After my infusion came to an end today and to my surprise, all the nurses that were on duty (and in the past 6 months, I got to know all of them) came into my room playing tambourines, singing and congratulating me as one placed a "Distinguished Patient Award" (pictured) around my neck....something I'm sure all patients receieve upon completion of a cancer treatment. It was a sweet moment and one I'll never forget. I recieved lots of hugs from them and thanked them for their warm care...they were SO awesome!

I have a CT scan scheduled for the 27th that will show how well the chemo has done. Then, I'll be starting a chemo/radiation therapy treatment within the next month that will last 5-1/2 weeks (daily). This is my other training wheel. One day, I'll be riding through life, stable, sturdy and free.

Thank you for all the prayers, positive thoughts and caring emails!

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Crocheted Afghan For My Son

Shane's Masculine Ripple Stitch Afghan

Afghans tend to be rather girlie. (I love them!) I made a Sunflower afghan for my older daughter (which you can find in my blog post here Vonny's Sunflower Afghan ). I also made a Blue with White Bow Overlay afghan for my younger daughter (which you can find in my blog post here Toni's Blue & White Afghan ). When looking for a pattern for my son, I wanted it to be more masculine. In my search, I found the perfect one! The color combination was awesome, also. Fun to make and very easy...but most of all, he loves it!

I actually finished Shane's afghan last August but never got a chance to take photos and post it until now. Currently, I'm working with this same pattern for my hubby, but with different colors. It's nearly finished.

Aroma Fields Candles & Bath

As a courtesy, credit for this lovely pattern goes to Maria Merlino

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Week In The Life Of Chemo


With five months of Gemzar chemo behind me and only one more month to go (horray!), I thought I should log my experience with this phase of treatment.

Each Tuesday, I go down to City of Hope (cancer hospital). Hubby is always with me and is my biggest cheer leader. While I'm there, my blood is always drawn and analyzed prior to being hooked up to an iv. Doctors want to make sure that my body is continually strong enough to endure another round of a poison (chemo) invasion. An hour usually goes by (or more, if they are running behind) while my blood work is being analyzed and sent to the chemo infusion staff.

In the chemo infusion room, having the iv put into my arm is stressful as I never know if the nurse I'll get has the knack for finding a vein. So far, I've been hurt twice to the point that the pain brings me to tears and wish this was all just a bad dream. It's those times that make me think that with all that cancer patients have to go through, one would think that the hospital would make sure to place nurses who are efficient with iv placement into the chemo infusion area so that patients don't have to endure more pain than necessary. And it's those times that I ask to have someone else step in to do the work...and they're usually pretty understanding about it. Once hooked up to an iv, I receive a 20 minute infusion of Zofran...a medication that reduces nausea; a side effect caused by the chemo. And finally, I'm hooked up to the bag of chemo. Mine is Gemzar, a milder form of chemo than most and a 30 minute infusion. I look at the clock to mark the time ( now, I just want to go home!) ...and then I try everything possible to stay distracted. I feel the Gemzar going into my body. It's so cold, it burns. Even though the nurse puts a warm pack on my arm, I ask for an additional warm blanket. The warmth sooths the painful, burning Gemazar. Once finished, removing the iv is quick and painless. I feel physically drained from the stress of the whole process and can't wait to get home.

Through it all, I'm friendly and pleasant with the nursing staff. After all, I can only imagine how their days go having to deal with sick, (even dying), depressed patients (bless them all!). I have made friends with several people on the nursing staff and I can see it makes a difference to do so. They are glad to see me and some greet me with a hug. Some pass by my infusion room (where I'm hooked up to an iv) and stop in to chat.

For the following two days (after my chemo treatment), I have to go to City of Hope for a shot called neupogen. It's to raise my white blood cell count so my immune system isn't compromised from the chemo. Thus, I'm devoting 3 days a week to hospital visits.

Wednesday (the day after my chemo treatment), I have red flushing across my nose and cheeks and my face feels hot. By that night, I'm running a low grade fever. But my energy level is good on that day so I'm still smiling, energetic and able to do many things. But the neuritis (caused by the chemo) sets in to both arms and hands making it painful for me to do much. Even drying my hands after doing dishes or washing my hands is painful. Being out in a chilly breeze makes the neuritis even more painful. Advil doesn't help. As time has passed, this side effect is less intense.

Thursday and Friday are my 'sick' days as I feel like I have the flu. My nose gets stuffy, I have a nagging headache, my eyes are weak and I'm so fatigued on those days that I forget what feeling good feels like. My concentration is very poor. Each week, these effect vary in their intensity. As time has passed, the intensity of the flu like symptoms is not as severe.

By Saturday, the side effects are lifting except for the neuritis in my hands and arms. I'm usually feeling good enough to do most things I enjoy despite the neuritis. Sunday is even better...except for the neuritis which is still a problem.

By Sunday, I'm feeling completely normal and try to pack as much activity into that day and Monday as I can. starts all over again.

EVERYDAY, I'm losing more hair. By now, I think I've probably lost half of what I had. I'm fortunate that I'm not bald but not sure that ending up looking like Bill The Cat would be any better. It saddens me as I use to have beautiful, thick, shiny hair. I had to have it cut short a couple of months ago so that the long length wouldn't clog the drain and choke the vacuum. One friend (whom I sure meant well) said, "To hell with your hair!". Frankly, I'm not willing to wish any part of me to hell...and I believe I have a right to feel sad about losing the person I use to be (hair and all).

The fourth week of every month is my 'week off'. The doctor gives me a break from chemo and the white blood cell shots so my body can recuperate from the effects. And it does! By Friday (of my week off), the neuritis is gone...and it feels SO good to be free from pain and have a descent energy level again. During this week, I can almost forget that this has ever happened, I feel so good! One side effect remains...I continue to lose hair... (drat!)

Recuperation from the surgery itself is still ongoing but going extremely well. I feel LEAPS and BOUNDS better each month and moving about is near normal now. It's still difficult to go from a sitting position to a standing one without feeling a tug and some soreness within my midriff. Thus, I stand up very slowly. My intestines are returning to normal and, thank God, I can eat most all things again without much abdominal/intestinal pain. I've learned (the hard way!) which foods to avoid and, frankly, the list isn't that long. I eat all day long (3 meals plus snacks) and have been able to gain two pounds since I had the surgery. My body doesn't metabolize foods the way it use to since it's been 're-plumbed', therefore, gaining weight is a problem. I take enzymes to help with digestion. Fortunately, though...I haven't lost any more weight. It's odd to go from counting calories so as not to the extreme of eating all I can to try and keep the weight on. I feel like 'Pac Man' most days!...chomp!...chomp! I love making fruit smoothies and I add protein powder to aid in maintaining muscle mass (which I lost during my 32 days in the hospital). The fanny I lost while in the hospital has returned (horray!) and I'm not looking too sickly any more. In fact, you can't even tell I've been sick.

I've always been a happy person and this ordeal hasn't changed that. I still like to make light of a bad situation. My loving, supportive family makes it easier to have a bright attitude. But inside, I do have fear that one day the cancer will return and that my life will be over. My doctors go by statistics and this is what they believe. I hate that they beat the 'statistics' drum! I look forward to the day when the chemo and radiation treatments are finally over...but then I fear that the cancer will return. Even though I talk with my hubby about these fears and, bless him, he quickly lifts my mood with his positive (near denial) logic....I hand my fears over to God because this monster disease and the fear of what it can do is WAY too big for me to handle.

I'm in need of feeling productive as I refuse to just sit around each day wasting time away. I received a candle order last month, filled the order and realized how much I've missed doing this. I'm working on a website for a special client, I'm also making soaps, candles, crocheting and planning to sew some pretty summer dresses with my grand daughters. Life goes on ... :-)

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Short of It

What the doctors thought was "bile duct" cancer turned out to be stage III pancreatic cancer, afterall. I had a major surgery in November (the whipple surgery) and spent 32 days in the hospital recovering.

I'm currently undergoing weekly chemo treatments which should be finished by the end of July. Then I have to have 5 weeks of daily radiation therapy combined with chemo. The chemo treatments I'm currently having aren't so bad as I only feel ill two days out of the week. But, I just don't have the stamina and concentration I use to.

Prognosis for this kind of cancer isn't usually very good but I plan to beat the odds :-) Only 20% make it past 5 years. Since, I've always been active and healthy, don't smoke or drink and always wake up each morning in a happy mood....I see no rhyme or reason why God needs to take me away from my family any time soon.

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