" I implore you, my child; observe heaven and earth, consider all that is in them, and acknowledge that God made them out of nothing (ex nihilo), and that mankind comes into being in the same way..." 2 Maccabees 7:28

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

At The End Of All Things

Yesterday was a very difficult day- I finally decided to shave my head and be done with it. I thought I would be fine, but in the moment it was very hard and all my defenses failed me. Charity, mom and I were in the backyard and Charity was a rock, just cutting my hair through her own tears. The night before I couldn't sleep because my scalp hurt so badly; I was down to about 1/3 of my hair. Every shower was traumatic because it would just keep falling and sticking to my body and the walls- it was really horrible. What was left was not worth keeping- thin and pale and weak; every morning the first thing I would wake to was the sight of more hair on my pillow, a reminder of the reality of the situation. I had planned to make the haircut into a funny thing; we were going to cut it into a mohawk and then take pictures. But the plans all kind of fell apart.

When we were done cutting I put my scarf back on and went to the adoration chapel and just prayed without even being able to form any words in my heart; the emotions that were raging really had nothing to do at all with hair or even cancer- I found myself having to ask for the grace to forgive old wounds and disappointments from years ago. I was surprised at the things that were rising to the surface; things I thought were long healed and gone. When I got home I sent out some emails with tears still splashing all over my computer. And of course within 10 minutes people were calling and sending me their love and support.

I had two email that I wanted to share, from Kasia and Fr. Chad; very different letters but both very truthful and comforting. I hope they don't mind my posting them here.

My dear Faith,
I don't have any words of wisdom, but all I can think of is that God comes to
us through the tangible, earthy matter. He spit in the blind man's eye,
I'm sure that wasn't fun. He's somewhere in the hair.

Also, if you have a bible with gold-edged pages, don't cry all over it.
I dropped a tear on the gold edge of mine many years ago, and it smudged
the gold and left a big stain. Actually, I think it was a drop from my
running nose...

Love you,

Dear Faith,

I wanted to begin this email –an email written by a balding 33 year old priest- saying that hair is way overrated. Besides the fact that you get your hair back next year and I continue to recede. After reading your email and the tears that you shed while writing it, I second guessed this approach however. I think a more serious note is needed.

Suffering always unnerves us and makes us feel exposed. It runs our strength into the ground and humiliates our forethought resilience. Suddenly every turn hits with unexpected power. Tears more than laughs begin to prevail. Anger bursts out of us like the onslaught of a broken dam, sweeping us away in a torrent of emotions.

It’s hard to handle but not impossible –with Christ. You did the right thing, you turned to Christ as the only resort capable of restoring serenity. This is what we must do over and over again in our life. The more you do this, the closer our Lord will be to you and the more your heart will be completely his. This is a priceless gift that Jesus offers to you right now. Surrender your heart, trust in him and he will act. Psalm 37.

Rest assured of my prayers.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Chad

Kasia's talk about tear stains on her bible reminded me of my own experience a few years ago. I was crying over something very different back then and I was alone in the chapel at St HIllary's. So I went up and rested my forehead against the tabernacle and cried; the salt from my tears dripped on the metal of the tabernacle and stained it. When I am alone in that chapel I sometimes go and check- there is still a mark where my tears fell. It's always so strangely comforting to see it there.

Love, Faith

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Don't Know A Good Thing When They See It

Dang birds! They don't know a good thing when they see it. Just yesterday I saw a little brown bird desperately pulling at a dry tuft of brown grass, (presumably to build her nest with) while just two feet away was a big clump of highest quality hair, just free for the taking! This stuff would keep the nest cool in summer, warm in the winter, is water- resistant and strong but lightweight...the list goes on and on.

In an attempt to increase the visibility of my proferred hair, I have hung it inconspicuously on a few rusty nails on the backyard fence (oh, come on- it's not that gross!). If you didn't know better, you might think this was some sort of voodoo thing going on with little hair bunches on the fence and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the corner. But it's perfectly innocent and above board, I assure you. And if the birds don't take my hair in the next few days, I'll just throw it in the trash, mom- I promise. It really would bring me such a thrill to have the birds take it! It would be so "circle of life"-ish.

I suspect it's just too late in the season and all the nests are already built; or perhaps they don't like my shampoo? My dad suggested they might only like blondes, whereas my mom came up with the most likely suggestion- the birds are afraid that if they use my hair in their nests, it will make their feathers fall out.

Lookin' Good!

Yesterday I was taking a walk by myself in the evening. It was very warm but I didn't have any summer sandals down here with me so I was wearing my clunky black Mary Janes with white gym socks. I had on my comfortable khaki pants that are a little too short in the leg, and a blue and white flowered headscarf and a brown tee shirt. (It's hard to motivate yourself to try to look good when you are a female with male- pattern baldness). So I was walking down Magnolia after having rented a movie, and these teenage boys in a fancy black Acura drove by and started whistling at me. I was so mad- I wanted to throw a rock at them! And I was right in front of the police station, too. I know they didn't mean any harm, but I felt like crying! So I said a prayer in my head- "God bless those little rat dumbshits..." and I felt better.

So I guess my prayers were answered.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hair is Falling

Well, I take back what I said about it not being so weird to have your hair falling out. It IS weird, very weird. In fact, it has probably been the most unsettling part of this whole cancer thing thus far. For the last 2 days I have been wearing a scarf over my head even though I still have plenty of hair; I am trying to become accustomed myself (and give others a chance) to get used to seeing me in the scarf and head covers. Yesterday I went to the grocery store and the guy behind me in line was just STARING; Charity said he was thinking "does that girl know that she looks like a chemo patient with that scarf on her head?". But this morning I really noticed that the hair around my face and especially at my temples is coming out and it looks very odd. Also the color of my skin around my eyes is changing; it's starting to turn sort of dark so I REALLY am beginning to look like a chemo patient. Vanity sure takes a blow, though...it is strange because the changes are subtle, but unmistakable. Oh, well. It won't be forever.

A former teacher of Charity's (a drama teacher at the Community College; Carla Zilbersmith) has just been diagnosed with ALS. There is no cure and few treatments; you eventually need to be put on a respirator. She has a 14 year old son. Please pray for her; especially that she would be protected through the times of fear that no one can walk with you; that she be protected from despair; and above all that she feel God's presence with her in an unmistakable and powerful way. Her picture is at the top.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Last Saturday I was very stressed- unusually so. Worried about the little things, the big things, and all the things in between. How was I going to be able to return to work full- time while still anemic and immune- compromised? How was I going to have the energy next year for a larger class? And the bigger things- what is to become of my life now? What is to become of all my dreams? Where am I going? Will the cancer come back- will it come back someplace worse?

I was at mass in the morning and stayed an hour later just praying my rosary in the quiet of the near- empty church trying to regain some perspective and peace. Later on that day I received an email from Christina which spoke to my fears directly- I believe it was the notes from the homily at her church (* I have since found out that they are actually notes from a Christian pastor and his wife from Texas...). I was especially touched because the letter uses the term "out of nothing" several times, which translates to "ex nihilo"! So here is the love note I received...

Something Out of Nothing
Today's Scripture

“The earth was formless and void…and God said, Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:2-3).

Today's Word from Joel and Victoria

Are you believing God for something today that seems impossible? We serve a great and mighty God. and He can create something out of nothing. He can make a way when there seems to be no way! Genesis tells us that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. But before He spoke the world into existence, it was formless and void. If God can make the world out of nothing, He can take the empty places in your life and create something beautiful, too! He can speak light into your darkest hour. He can take your formless dreams and give them shape. He can resurrect your dormant gifts and talents! He can make your crooked places straight! Remember, you are created in the image of almighty God. There’s power in your words, and there’s power when you’re in agreement with Him. Start saying what God says about your situation. Speak life to your broken dreams, today. Stay in an attitude of faith and expectancy. As you do, God will take you places that you’ve never dreamed, and you’ll live in victory all the days of your life!

A Prayer for Today

Father in heaven, I trust that You are willing and able to make a way where there seems to be no way in my life. Fill me with Your peace and faith and give me a vision for all You have for me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cycle 2, Day 3

Well, when I'm in the house I have my hair pulled back with a clip and two little ponytails to keep it from falling out all over the rugs and my clothing (the hairstyle is a little childish and stupid, but then again, so's cancer.). This morning I chanced a shampoo (the first one since it started falling out on Monday) and sure enough, that REALLY causes some fallout. It doesn't look thin as compared to the rest of the world, but boy does it feel thin to me.

Every morning I take out my ponytails, put on a big bathrobe and go outside to brush all the loose hair out, then I shake out my bathrobe before going back inside. In middle school, my sister had a paper route; every day she would prepare her papers for delivery on the front porch but was frustrated because she felt like she was always missing string. The mystery was solved in the fall when we found adandoned birds nests in the backyard made almost entirely out of her newspaper string. i hope they're taking all my hair and making good use of it.

As weird as it is to have my hair falling out, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Nothing has been as bad as I would've imagined it to be, really. I recovered from the surgery quickly, I have had only the most predictable of side effects (fatigue, headaches, weakness, mild nausea and cramping) but nothing severe. It's really the anticipation that has been the worst part.

By the way, every evening I drink a huge mug of steaming... prune juice! That's right! And it's really good. Full of vitamins and minerals, don't know where this stuff has been all my life. It has long been associated with grumpy, backed- up elderly people, but I feel it is time that prune juice got a make- over. I plan to make prune juice cool, just as soon as I can make myself cool and then prune juice by association.

Wish me luck.

Love, Faith

Monday, April 21, 2008

*addendum to last post

Getting ready for mass this morning- ran some water through my hair with my hands and my hands came up FULL of hair... so it's exactly day 15, right on schedule. I feel like I should shave it off rather than have it falling out everywhere, but I can't quite bring myself to do it... I'm looking down now and seeing that it's all over my sweater. Gross. My doctor said I should just get it over with and shave it, because when it falls out, it's "gonna be worse than a cat..."

Maybe I can get my sister to shave crop circles on my head.

Cycle 2, Day 1

So today will be chemotherapy #2, day 1. Will ask Tony to do the math as to how far along (in both percentages and fractions) that makes me- math is not my strong suit. And the numbers, at this point aren't terribly encouraging.

Charity can't come today as she just got a new job, but before she left for work she went through all the things that need to be in my chemo bag before I leave- Kombucha, hard candy, ice chips, blanket and barf bucket (named Ralph) for the ride home. The anxiety is gone as I now know what to expect, although the Adriamycin portion is still stressful as that chemical is pretty strong.

Will go to 9am mass and then straight to Kaiser for preliminary blood work- if any counts are off they could decide to postpone for a week, but I don't think that will happen; I'm feeling pretty good (of course you can never tell). Then I go back to Kaiser at 1:30 for the actual infusion.

More to come later...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Experiment Results

I am now able to reveal to you all the details of the recent secret experiment mentioned in previous posts; namely "Can Black Bean Brownies (from this point forward referred to as BBB) Be Introduced Successfully Into the Average Population?" Well, the results were mixed. I relied on the participation of several scientific partners in order to obtain data; Dr. Trisha Q. was under strict orders to introduce the BBB's to her discerning husband with no mention of my own name (as my reputation for culinary experimentation proceeds me). Dr Trisha is still burdened with scruples and expressed the moral concern that my brownies "would give (my subjects) gas, and they won't even know why...!" I convinced her that science must be served at all costs. I forgot to tell her that the brownies needed to be kept refrigerated or they lose their shape and by the time they got home they had turned to mush and fallen apart. So neither Trisha nor Tony were able to take part in the study itself.

Kasia and Liam M and Eva O. also took part in the study- Kasia and Eva being in on the experiment while Liam was partially blind to some of the details. In this case, I administered the brownies myself and therefore had to own up to some alterations as Liam would get suspicious (I admitted using an alternative sweetener, Agave Nectar).

Also taking part in the study was Ron G and the other members of my own household, as well as Amy and Teresa J, my roommate and her sister. My dad stated that his favorite part of the brownies was that "he would not be tempted to overeat". Liam just kept saying "I'm not a brownie person" ad nauseum, Amy and Teresa thanked me profusely for making dessert but were oddly silent on the taste. No one said they were terrible, but not many people liked them very much either. I, for my part, thought they were fine. And Katherine reported that herself and her kids liked them, but they are probably accustomed to eating healthy as well.

Bottom line for me- I'm not a bad cook and I'm afraid after my recent attempts at healthy desserts I will get that reputation. But I just hate the idea (especially post- diagnosis) of making food that has no health benefits whatsoever, like regular brownies. I should probably lighten up- "everything in moderation" and all that...

Well, back to the drawing board. No further experimental recipes are on the agenda to be released to the public anytime soon, so for now the citizens may rest secure in the knowledge that dessert will just be dessert.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Top Secret...

I am currently in the middle of some very sensitive research with potentially shocking results. Due to the sensitive nature of this material, I can reveal only that I am involved in this project (actually I'm the only one involved) and that we (okay, me) are only a few test subjects short of enough data to complete the study. When all is complete, I will let you know. Pretty cryptic and dramatic, huh? Stay tuned.

In Hair news today, I am reporting that for the last 2 days my scalp felt slightly itchy but like a sunburn when scratched, however today that tingly feeling has persisted whether I touch it or not. Not painful, just sort of "effervescence" on the scalp. So that is the warning sign that I need to spend some quality time with "me hairs", as their days are numbered...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back On The Air

Since I've been radio silent all weekend (sorry, that's CIA talk) I thought I'd better post a brief message lest anyone think I'd entered my eternal rest. I had a simple sore throat (nothing fancy, just your garden variety burn- when- swallowing type) that morphed pretty quickly into a sinus infection. I woke up in the wee hours of the night on Sunday morning sweating badly and having a hard time taking a full breath, and convinced that my lungs were filling up with fluid like a sunken canoe (they weren't). So I calmed myself down and told myself, "self, calm down. You'll go to the doctor in the morning and they'll put you on anti- biotics and you'll be fine". This stern talking- to (and a Tylenol PM)seemed to do the trick and at 8:45 on Sunday morning I went in to the After Hours Clinic at Kaiser. As soon as I told the doctor I was a chemo patient she reached straight for a box of masks and put one on forthwith. It is funny to see how people react when they know you have cancer (not that I am criticizing her reaction- I had actually snagged a few of those disposable face masks myself before she came into the room. You never know when you night need em. ) She was very thorough but seemed perhaps shocked at my having waited several days before doing something about this sore throat; I felt a little defensive. How can I make people appreciate the new position I find myself in now? You must know, in my pre-cancer life I rarely got sick. In 5 years of teaching I had used up about 8 sick days at my old position, the rest I blew on pilgrimages to Medjugorje or Rome that they couldn't justify refusing me since I had such great attendance. I was never one to worry about germs; I thought little kids with runny noses were endearing. To be a person with a near invincible immune system to overnight becoming someone who should be worrying about every sniffle or the changing color of their snot is very new to me... not quite sure how to go about it. And it still hasn't sunk in that I can't rely on my immune system right now. So this was a good wake- up call. She put me on antibiotics for an upper respiratory infection and an inhaler to open the lungs. And gave me a stern warning not to let these things go next time. She was very nice at the end; I think she felt uncomfortable making any kind of call regarding a cancer patient without an oncologist to advise her (I can understand her hesitation).

On a sad note, while in the waiting room a rather weathered woman in her 50's or so came in and demanded to speak to her doctor. She gave a name of her doctor; the staff said there was no such doctor there. She then proceeded to demand Vicoden and Oxycodone for her back pain, though she had no prescription or doctor reference. She said her ex- husband stole all her pain medication and she had a right to more even without any paperwork. The staff continued to refuse (of course) and she left very angry. I felt really bad for her- the whole thing was just so pathetic. Also a good reminder that prescription drugs are no joke.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Choices We Make and the Choices That Make Us...

As I have been going over on my cell phone minutes the last few months (especially annoying knowing I have no one to blame but myself) I made a trip to the Verizon store to change my plan. While waiting my turn I looked at all the newest and sharpest models of phones that have since become available. Bright colors and shiny finishes, slider phones that you can open with one hand, contoured phones.. they all looked so inviting and interesting compared to my 3 year old model (which has served me well all these years with nary a problem). This is no time for spending any extra money though, so I reminded myself frequently that I was "only looking!"

The sales representative was unusually nice- soft spoken, kind and quietly cheerful. He informed me, to my delight that I qualified for a free upgrade to a newer phone! My excitement came to a jerking halt when he put two phones in front of me. Both dark silver gray with a dreary finish and no identifying features, I could swear I became a slightly duller person just being in such close proximity with these technological bores. I hesitated, and asked him (with naive hope in my voice) how much more it would cost to update to a cool Razr or a sophistocated Chocolate? He laughed. "Actually, you could qualify to receive any of those phones for free, but I want to tell you that they are not very good phones, despite their aesthetic appeal. Although the Chocolate and the Razr are popular models, in the long run customers are often disappointed with them pretty quickly. I picked out for you the best models of the whole lot- better sound quality and battery life, better reception... they are superior in the only things that really matter."

I walked out of the store with my trustworthy new phone in my purse- the gray LG5400. Even knowing I had chosen the right one, I still think about that shiny red Chocolate with its easy sliding action.

I guess, having been created with free will and the capacity to choose, we will never stop desiring even those things which we know will never bring us true joy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An Exciting Night

The following is a email from my dad describing the rather busy events of 2 nights ago...

I have another home repair gone wrong story.

Binkers who often has some impractical ideas regarding food preparation starting from a far out base due to the attack by the cancer and her desire to strike back with Kampucha and natural foods, produced a bowl of strawberries yesterday. I don't mean a little cereal bowl, but a multi-loaf bread making bowl about 18 inches across. the finished bowl sits in the refrig and awaits our serving spoon, but the preparation required removing the stems.

"That was easy." She took a shortcut and placed the stems in the sink grinder, and they flowed out but backed up behind the flow so that the sink in the garage that serves the washing machine was unable to drain. sewer line plugged with ground strawberry stems so sink filled up. Didn't overflow as your sharp eyed Mom caught it in the act at 10 PM when all were ready for bed.

Snapping into action while Binkers and Charity continued to glaze with concentration on Alias reruns and Mom retired to bed. the attack commenced with the plunger that makes the great sucking sound, but no progress. so resourceful me dressed as home plumber in bathrobe and barefooted started by bailing out sink and throwing the water in the yard. Everything alright so far with exception of the water spilled in the transfer from sink to yard.

It gets messier but the real fun starts later. I have entertained myself with the recollection ,but the others were blind to the humor. Charity thinks the pipe went by her bed,but it was far from there as it doesn't rise to the second floor.

so now the sink is bailed so it may be removed allowing your trusty home-plumber to get to work at the intestine of trouble. the line from washing machine sink to sewer runs under kitchen sink with a counter flow connection where the strawberry stem collected in the line under the house. the garage sink must be removed to allow access to the sewer line with the hose with a patented swelling bladder at the end. Insert hose with bladder, oops , hose will not work as it has had special fitting prohibiting entry into pipe as the fitting too large. Trip to Long's, open all night, for a hose with smaller fitting, $15 , and it is now 1130 PM and all seem asleep except Mom who comes out to confront me,"I knew you would not let this go until morning."

The new hose worked fine and the obstruction was removed by the pressure of the vibrating flow of the water that could not back up in the pipe and flood the garage due to swollen bladder so the obstacle had to move. all is fine ,but a little noisy under the room where Mom slept and may others were alerted to the sound of rushing water and the "vibration at midnight" in the pipes.

All are confined to bed and "sleeping" when I pull the hose out and about to put the sink back and I press the keys in my pocket and set off the car alarm. No one reacts to a car alarms as they are now routine, but not at midnight, as all awake with a start and shudder in our home from the midnight alarm. They slept through the vibration and clamour but not the routine car alarm. Charity came down, Alice (the dog) let out a howl and Mom arose from bed. Then the fun began. I was outside on the side of the house punching the car alarm button to stop the noise and Mom was, unknown to me, out on the street doing the same. The result? I would turn it off and she would punch again and turn it on! That went on for some time until I realized we were working at cross purposes. The neighborhood slept through, but our household was wide awake.

I could have use their service earlier, but they were all "asleep." Mom convinced me to lay off until morning to replace sink fittings, and I went to bed at 1PM ready to resume in the morning. As I removed my clothes putting the pants with car keys in pocket back on the chair it must have awakend the car alarm again, as it was soon beeping again and Binkers was alerted to the attack.

I had to tell you as you could be more objective than my housemates.

Actually the car alarm went off 3 more times that night, and as dad can sleep through anything, mom had her hearing aides out and Charity's room is far from the street I was the only one who could turn it off (although I did hear Alice's sympathetic boo- roo's when I would wander out into the cold, lonely street until the final alarm at 3 am).

Ah, what the heck. It's a blog post.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Day 3 of 120... so far, so good.

So just in case anyone was wondering about how tough I am, the answer is in. TOUGH. Very TOUGH. I just gave myself an injection in my stomach of Neupagin (or something like that) a white blood cell booster. Today was my first day with it, but I will have to have the injection on days 3- 9 following every treatment. Charity was very jealous, she was all hyped up to give me the injection herself (she wouldn't tell me where she was planning to stick me though, she said it would just be a surprise...)but I got to it first. The needle I used is the smallest one in the picture, but you have to stick it all the way in. I even tapped it, just like they do in the movies.

I am feeling very similar to yesterday- few side effects other than some congestion, sore throat, a bit woozy and some cramping. But some of the anti- nausea meds are steroids so even though I know I'm tired, I'm a little antsy too and have a hard time sitting still. But the roids also keep my appetite normal, so I am able to eat pretty well. And I'm pumping iron, too.

Charity and I are watching "Alias" on DVD every night (2 episodes only). To work for the CIA you need to know how to do practically everything- like fight with weapons so antiquated that nobody recognizes them, drive and shoot at the same time while your partner is performing surgery in the back of a stolen ambulance, run down air vents in high heels, etc. But now that I can inject myself, I think that will look good on my resume and give me a leg up over the other applicants.

Thanks for all your prayers, and you remain in mine as well.

Monday, April 7, 2008

One down...

Whew... one down, 8 more to go. At the end of the day the biggest thing I can offer up for all your intentions is the fear and anxiety (and some fatigue and dizziness, but nothing severe).

The first moment of grace came in the morning when I received an email (from someone I've never met but who knows my sister and has been praying for me) concerning chemo and nausea. The article mentioned being very careful about going into treatment expecting to be severely nauseous; this can cause nausea and vomiting independent of treatment (called anticipatory nausea). When I read this, I realized that I had been doing just that- planning to offer up all my nausea for the intentions people had sent to me (the side effect was I was already experiencing mild nausea and headache from the anticipation). That was grace #1.

I came to the appointment with my entourage of 3 in tow (I've sort of got a reputation for this now; I would hate to disappoint anyone). Charity had packed a suitcase full of everything I could need in any eventuality; the nurse had a good chuckle at the size of it (the down comforter took up a lot of room).

The doctors were expecting that my nausea would be severe, so they PACKED on the nausea meds before they even began the chemo- 4 kinds! It was another moment of grace as the first drug they gave me I had heard mentioned before (Emend). A woman my age had been going through chemo and having very serious side effects with the nausea, but until they gave her this drug she was not getting any relief. The problem was that it is new and extremely expensive; she had to fight to get it. I had told myself that if I was really struggling with the nausea I would ask for it. Well, right after the nurse hooked me up to the IV (this was the most nerve- wracking part) she told me they were giving me two drugs that were the Mercedes Benz and the Cadillac of anti- nausea meds. The first one was this Emend, and the second was another one known to strengthen the effectiveness of the first! That was big grace #2.

Then they started the chemo drugs- that's when I began to feel a bit woozy. The first one is a deep, diabolical red color reminiscent of the color of my eyes in a flash photograph (or like that European Sans Bitter drink that Mike brought to the mafia party awhile back). Anyway, this drug is not in the IV, although you are hooked up to the IV. The nurse has it in a syringe and pushes a tiny bit in, then pulls back to make sure she is still in the vein, then pushes saline in. The reason for the extreme caution on this first drug is that if it gets anywhere outside the vein, it causes instantaneuos ulcerations. This was nerve- wracking, as every little sting and burn I had to restrain myself from yelling "stop it, it's escaping!" But I regained reason and all went just fine, though a bit intense. Then the cytoxin came next, that was just hooked into the IV and took about 45 minutes.

We didn't get to do the rosary during this first session as we had planned; during the entire time the nurse was training us on the home drugs and injections that we would need to be doing by ourselves (white blood cell boosters). This training actually lasted longer than the IV session itself. But I brought your intentions and when we got home myself, my parents and sister Charity said the rosary together. Future session s will be less supervised, except for the adriamycin (can't remember how to spell this one...) portion where those 10- 15 minutes will be entirely nurse- controlled.

Driving home in the car I was still marvelling and said- "you know, this is so bizarre- other than a headache and fatigue, I feel absolutely fine!" Charity said "that's funny, because I feel nauseous. And I think I have a sore in my mouth..." When I called Trisha later, she said she has been nauseous all day. And my mom didn't sleep the night before...

So now it is about 10:00 the following day. I'm feeling pretty good, considering, just like I am at the beginning of a cold (sore throat, fatigue, a little stomach cramping). My one crazy disappointment is that I have so many intentions to pray for- I was figuring the graces would just start POURING in as soon as I started puking! Whoo hoo! But I am extremely thankful to have had such a gentle beginning to this whole experience, and I'm sure it is due to all your prayers for me! Please keep them coming and please pray for all the other intentions I have received as well! Either I or Charity will try to keep you posted.

Love, Faith

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tomorrow is the big day...

Well, it's almost here. Tomorrow I start chemo at 1:30. Emotions are mixed, but overall I just want to get it started so that I will be finished with it that much sooner. There is a laundry list of potential side effects you can get from chemo; from loss of nails to hair loss to mouth sores. But not everyone gets all the side effects, nor do they have the same degree of fatigue or nausea. UNfortunately the group that gets the worst nausea are younger women (not near their menopause years) who don't drink. Great. And they've informed me it's too late to start drinking now...

Too tired to write a full post, but I will set this up so my sister Charity can post my progress when I'm not up for it.
I feel the effects of and am deeply appreciative of all your prayers. PLEASE when you pray for me remember to pray also for all the intentions that people have sent in. God bless you all, and thanks! I'll write again soon.
Love, Faith

Saturday, April 5, 2008


It's always difficult to know exactly what to say in this blog. I have begun the breast reconstruction process and I think it's interesting; however I often wonder if it's shocking to others that I put so many intimate details posted for the world to see. I also worry if posting all this publicly contributes to the sense of separation from my body that I've been aware of post surgery. On the other hand, there are so many misconceptions about cancer in general and breast cancer specifically, about breast reconstruction... Chances are, all of those reading this blog will at sometime in your life know someone else with the same diagnosis (1 in 8 women will get it) and perhaps you will be in a better place to encourage her knowing the facts. I would like to know that others can benefit from my experience; that was one of the original purposes for writing this blog.

All things considered, I felt the positive outweighed the negative. So the following post will be about the process of breast reconstruction; if that is too much information for you, I certainly understand. Otherwise, read on at your own peril. As it is a bit uncomfortable to write (not because I mind answering question honestly and thoroughly, but rather because I can't see your faces as you read or know how the things I say may be interpreted), I imagine some may find it uncomfortable to read.

I'm not sure what I thought breast reconstruction would be, or even if I ever had a fully formed opinion at all. Since the breast would be entirely removed, I would have guessed they would make an entirely new one out of memory foam or something and just stick it onto my chest with some industrial strength adhesive. It would look just like the real thing, only I would have to wring them out after each shower or swimming laps. Needless to say, this is entirely wrong.

I opted for mastectomy with immediate reconstruction; what this means is that after the actual mastectomy performed by the surgeon, the plastic surgeon then takes over. In a typical breast augmentation an implant is just placed underneath the already existing breast tissue, however following a mastectomy there is no breast tissue left; it has all been removed right down to the chest wall. So before any kind of implant can be put into place, the skin has to be stretched. The plastic surgeon places an expander underneath the muscle and then, after full recovery from the surgery (about 1 month), begins to inflate it by degrees in order to stretch the skin to accept an implant (this is called the expansion process). I had the first expansion on Thursday with the plastic surgeon; he warned me that it may be painful as it does put pressure on your lungs and rib cage. Although I was uncomfortable, it was not painful and it is already feeling better only 2 days later. They can fill it as slowly or as quickly as you are able to tolerate, however the larger you stretch the more painful it will be, regardless of how large you were before the mastectomy. Once the expansion process is completed, they remove the expander and put in it's place a permanent implant (they need to be changed every 10 years or so, so the term permanent is a misnomer, really). All implants can be problematic, however saline is less risky than silicone so I opted for saline, despite the fact that many people feel silicone gives more natural results.

In reading this through, I think that a few years from now I may regret having told the world all these details; as I mentioned before, there is a certain separation from your own body that I think is a pretty typical experience post cancer. At diagnosis, you find out that your body is hosting an invader that is slowly destroying you (though harboring this thought for very long could really drive you nuts- I had to just squelch it every time it would arise. In fact, I think that is one of the areas where all the prayers you sent my way benefited me the most; in the grace to take mastery of my thoughts and not be overwhelmed by fears or obsessions, especially in the early hours of the morning where your intellect is not operative...). In addition to that, following the surgery you have a complete numbness over the entire area of the mastectomy, extending through the armpit and to parts of your back. This area of numbness will grow smaller as the nerves, damaged during the surgery, return to the surface level of the skin, but it will not return completely. It is impossible to predict how much feeling will return, but it will never return in full. All this just contributes to the sense of detachedness (is that a word?) from my physical body at this time. And as the numbness itself is still new, I am very aware of it. Doctors assure me that I will grow accustomed to it in time.

As my risk of recurrence in the second breast is very high, I plan to have the second breast removed at a later date (rather than waiting until something shows up abnormal and having to go through radiation or chemo again). So I am just going to live the asymmetrical life until the second breast can be removed and reconstructed. A year from now I should be done with this whole thing and hopefully begin to feel like my body is my own again, rather than just a prop on a stage that I can exit at any time.

There are lots of things that can cause someone to feel a psychological detachment from their bodies- I hear stories of people who were sexually abused and experience that disconnect later as adults. I don't pretend that my own experience is anything so traumatic as that, but I do imagine a kinship between those souls and myself. It gives me comfort to think that I can offer this up for all those who are suffering the effects of those kinds of traumas. God took on a human body in the person of Jesus, so I know he understands what it is like when we struggle with all the vexations, difficulties and frustrations of our embodiment. And that's nice to know, too.

Thanks for reading my blog.
Love, Faith

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I think I scandalized poor Brother David today. I went to the Preschool Carnival at Trisha's school (very fun- little tigers jumping through hoops hung with tissue paper flames, clowns shooting the audience with water guns, little bugs that were so cute you wanted to put them in a jar and throw them out the back door...). Anyway, right before the show started, Trisha pointed out a member of the audience and said "don't you know that man?" She was right, of course. I was so surprised to see him there (I had an appointment with him 2 hours later) that I turned to Br. David and said "Br. David- that's my plastic surgeon!" He looked a bit flustered, and just responded, "really? How ... nice...?" It was amusing.

Just the day before, I had offered Fr. Chad and Br. David some of my Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies to take home. Br David's eyes got very wide and he was silent for a tense second, then finally came out with the compassionate response- "you made them- YOU should keep them!" as if they were children borne from my womb. HIs concern was very charitable, though hardly necessary. Especially when Eileen pointed out that when SHE makes cookies, their response is usually more like "bring it on- we'll take all you've got!" Evidently she has less of an emotional attachment to her baked goods than I, probably because she's sanguine and I'm melancholic.

Since they couldn't find it within themselves to come between me and the cookies I'd made, I promised that they get first dibs on my Black Bean Brownies, which I'm sure was of great consolation to them ( in fact I think I saw tears in their eyes...).

Don't worry, Liam- there will be plenty left over for you, too.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I have a lot of free time right now. I am trying to use it productively (watching DVD's of Alias doesn't count) and have done okay so far. Today I made a recipe that was on my email when I opened it, for Nubby Buckwheat Butter Cookies. The word nubby refers to the raw cocoa beans that you can get in health food stores. I'd never heard of them, but apparently they are something like the greatest thing to have burst upon the health food scene since...well, Kombucha, I guess! At least that's what the package would have me believe; I maintain a policy of being open, but cautious...

So the cookies, in addition to these amazing nib thingies also have buckwheat in them, another superhero ingredient going incognito. Like Clark Kent who only needs to comb his bangs down onto his forehead and take off his glasses (really... how can he see as superman? It would make more sense to NOT wear them as Clark and then put them on when he really needs his full abilities. I'm sure many a rescue mission was botched by poor depth perception.) But back to the cookies- they turned out pretty good.. I guess they are healthy, except for the fact that the recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter. I think even my dad would eat them without swearing or grumbling under his breath (like the time he did when I accidentally brought home ice milk instead of ice cream.) He takes his sweets very seriously...