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Friday, August 28, 2009

Keep 'em coming

As I mentally prepare for Chemo Treatment #2, I think about all the other times I've been to the hospital recently. Up until my initial lymph node surgery, I think I had been in a hospital like 3 times and the only time I was actually the patient was when I was being born. Honestly, hospitals kind of freaked me out, they smell funny and I swear they don't seem clean. I know, I know, it's a hospital and it's supposed to be completely sterile but they just seem scary and lets be honest, there are sick people there! But now that I'm one of those sick people, I have to change my perception and think of the hospital as my gateway to a cure. It must become a happy place for me, although I must admit my happiest moments are when I'm walking out, putting on my sunglasses, turning on my ipod and pretending like it never happened. One of the scariest parts of chemo is just walking to the hospital and taking the elevator to the oncology floor...I always want to go to the Birthing Center instead which happens to be on the same floor. Screaming newborns vs scary needles? I pick door number 1 please.

However, one thing that I do like about the hospital is that everyone is so complimentary there! I don't know if its a tactic that the nurses and doctors use to make patients feel better or they're being truthful, but I'll take it! The last few times I've been there, I was complimented on my shoes 3 times, my dress, my necklace, and one receptionist even told me that I look like a model! Who me? Noooo, stop it! I wonder if the compliments are a distraction technique so I don't notice the needle coming at my vein (hey it works!), but I've never turned down a compliment before, so I say, keep 'em coming people! Hey, further down the road I really might need some boosts to my self-esteem, so note to people with friends/family who have cancer...any compliment is definitely appreciated, whether it's about their smile, their shoes or their new engagement ring (wink wink).

So I've decided, from here on out, the hospital is my catwalk. Yes, Roosevelt Hospital, I am coming correct every time, head to toe with my best outfits. The last time I was getting a heart scan I was too busy thinking about how cute my new shoes look that I forgot to be scared (I could see them as I was laying down on the platform). I figure I can be sick (not for long!) on the inside but look good on the outside, so keep 'em coming!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm Engaged!!



Yes! It happened on August 22nd in Martha's Vineyard, MA (how fabulous is that? lol). My fiance Ross (still so strange to say fiance as opposed to boyfriend) proposed to me at his parents' house in MV last weekend and it was wonderful. We've been together for 4 years and it's truly a dream come true! Our families have known each other for years since we used to live in New Jersey but Ross and I were introduced when I moved to NYC. Even before my diagnosis, Ross has always been my rock. He's there for me in every way possible--he really does complete me and he's my best friend :) Ok, going to start to cry now...

So here's the story: my parents were in Martha's Vineyard for the weekend as well and they came over to Ross' parents' house to take us out to breakfast on Sat morning. Ross and I walked over to say goodbye to his sister Becca (who runs a blog about life in Chicago's Oak Park, check it out here: http://www.livehereoakpark.com/) and her husband Russell and as we walked away from them Ross asked me what I wanted to do that day. Now I often accuse Ross of not listening to me when I'm talking to him (typical man!) so I had already told him that I wanted to go to the beach and I wanted to eat lobster that day, so when he asked me again I thought to myself, "I told you already!" So I said, "I want to go to the beach and I want to eat lobster" and kept my "I told you already" to myself. Thank goodness I did, because then he took my hand and told me that there was one more thing that we could do that would make this day complete. And then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him! My vision was blurred at that moment because I started to cry (happy tears for once!) and I was blinded by my new shiny ring (he DOES listen to me...it was just what I wanted!) We hugged and kissed and then I heard a rustling in the woods and I see Russell with his camera taking pictures. The entire moment was captured on film but as soon as I saw the camera I tried to start posing (yes with mascara running down my face) because that's just what I do. The moment was beautiful and romantic and wonderful and I could just go on and on. And both of our families (except my lil bro Garrett--sorry buddy!) were there to witness it. Enjoy the pics above and here on Kodak Gallery. Of course me being me, I hate my hair because the MV humidity was not kind to it--kinda makes me think a wig isn't too bad now!

My friends have always teased me about the fact that I will be Bridezilla when I get engaged and I have to admit, the wheels are spinning. The wedding won't take place until June 2011, but I already have so many elements I've already thought about...note to my father: stop reading now....I want a chocolate fondue fountain, a 6-piece band, a photo booth station, etc....I have to have a fabulous wedding! So stay tuned.

One of the best things about being engaged is that for the last few days I've woken up thinking, "I'm engaged!", rather than, "Ugh, I have cancer". I feel like a fiancee' and not a cancer patient and that's amazing. I've often complained that this has been the worst summer ever because of everything from the mundane...the weather in NYC has been rainy and awful...to the devastating...my grandfather passed away in June and my cancer diagnosis in July. So the summer of 2009 has basically sucked. But now it has a whole new light, a whole new moment...it's the summer I got engaged! And that's what I'll always remember it as.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's a Wig Party!
















I wouldn't be fabulous if I didn't make an event out of buying a wig right? So I decided to invite several of my closest friends in New York join me at Invisiwig (thanks Anique for the recommendation!), the wig store that I choose, for an official wig party. What is a wig party you ask? Well it's something that I think every cancer patient should do to have fun with your friends while picking out that special hair prosthesis (as the insurance company calls it--thanks Oxford!). My original plan was to get a black wig cut shorter to mimic my natural hair, but my BFF Dani convinced me to switch it up and do something a little different, so I settled on one with natural brown highlights and bangs.

It's funny, when I started thinking about my wig purchase, I thought I wanted something that looked like my hair and was pretty natural looking. Meanwhile all my friends thought I would jump at the chance to get something long, blond and diva-ish (aka Beyonce-like), and while I love B, I don't want to look like her everyday. So the brown wig was perfect, it was a bit longer when I first tried it on and I admit, the Diva did come out. I felt like I needed a record deal and a headlining tour ASAP because the look was so dramatic. A ha! This is why people buy wigs, I thought. You instantly transform from regular girl to pop star...all I needed was some big shades and an entourage. I was definitely feeling myself.

However, a long wig was too much for everyday, so after the sales girl applied it to my head with a wig cap and tape, she trimmed it to shoulder-length and styled it. Meanwhile all my friends showed up to give their approval---what do ya know, I do have an entourage! There was even champagne :)

Afterwards, we all went to a nearby restaurant for drinks and dinner where I rocked the new wig and it was definitely a good time. I'm so blessed to have good friends who are supportive of me. Shout outs to Dani, Christa, Jen, Kristin, Mary, Renee, Terri and Tiffany (Chandra, Rose and Kamilla you were missed!) They're here for me in so many ways and what more could you ask for? Especially when they tell me that I look fabulous!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My First Chemo

My first step, my first word, my first job, and now my first chemo...it's crazy to add chemo to the list but like all my other firsts, its something that I will never forget. Surprisingly my first chemo was pretty anticlimactic. I went in at 1pm to start the process and they have to give you a test of the "B" drug (part of the ABVD combo) to make sure you don't have any bad reactions. So I'm sitting there eating M&Ms (yum!) b/c I heard you can get a weird, metallic taste in your mouth and I knew my beloved chocolate would help counter that, and I'm reading my fav tabloid magazines that give me all the celeb dirt I love, and I'm like, "hmmm I don't feel anything, chemo is great! whats all the fuss about?". Then the nurse comes by and I ask if I'm receiving the actual drugs yet and she's like, "no, that's just saline". Oh. Ok I guess I jumped the gun a little bit.

Luckily when she did start the "real stuff" I didn't feel anything then either. The trickiest part is that they tell you to tell them if you feel anything weird, painful, itchy or tingly. But then I get paranoid. Do I feel something? Wait, was that an itch? Ugh, I don't know. It did feel cold, so I told the nurse that and she said that was normal. The sucker was that she gave me the "A" drug next and I had read that was the one that makes your hair fall out. But I resisted the urge to say "oh no, no "A" drug for me" and accepted that this was all part of the treatment. So all went well and I didn't feel any pain or discomfort so that was a major plus. I was able to type on my computer, browse Perez Hilton.com and read some mags. My aunt came by to sit with me and even she was surprised that I seemed fine--there were some sicker looking people in the "infusion suite" (fancy right? they have comfy chairs, wi-fi, candy and TVs) and that was a little discouraging but gotta think positive! Oh, and the hospital has pet therapy where they bring by dogs so I got to sit with the cutest little Yorkie mix named Quincy and he really did make me feel better. So nice!

So when I was done after a few hrs (I tell you hospitals always keep you waiting! Glad I had nowhere to be) I was free to go. Took a cab back to my apt and then made myself a sandwich and chips while I watched an old episode of "The Game" (please BET bring back "The Game"--I love that show!). I did start to feel a twinge of nausea so I took one of the pills but so far so good, I keep telling myself, I'm strong and I can do this...without losing my hair (had to add that in there!). So we shall see!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's spelled H-O-D-G-K-I-N-S

Ok, so I'm the person that can't spell.  I consistently spell "Michael" wrong (does the "e" or the "a" come first?? I can never remember) and I always spell "decision" wrong, so its almost humorous to me that I can't seem to spell my own disease right.  Every single time I'm writing it, I want to leave out the "G"!  I don't know why, it doesn't make sense, but it does make me laugh each time...a little cancer humor, ya know? Spell check is my best friend, it prevents me from sending crazy emails to clients at work, but I think I should learn how to spell Hodgkin's if I want to continue to write about it. So it occurred to me that not everyone may know what HL (abbreviations are sooo much easier than worrying about spelling something) is.  Here's my definition, with help from the internet:

HL is one of two common forms of cancer of the body's lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system is a network of lymph nodes and interconnecting lymph vessels. Lymph nodes are small pea-shaped organs that make and store lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells that fight infection.  In HL, a cancerous tumor develops in a lymph node, usually in the neck or chest.  The disease is characterized by the presence of the Reed-Sternberg cells and as it progresses it may affect the body's ability to fight infection. The disease shows 2 peaks, the first in young adulthood (age 15-35) and the second in those over 55 years. The cause is unknown and its really just the luck of the draw.  Fortunately, it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer and most patients go on to live long, healthy lives. 

Ta da!  And there you go in a nutshell. I feel like I've learned so much in the 3 weeks since my diagnosis, I can only imagine what I'll knowledge I'll have when this is all done. I want to learn anything and everything about this disease and I even try and read my doctor's files when he puts them on the table....knowing I have no idea what half the stuff means!  But if you're more informed, you can make better decisions so thats what I'm aiming for.

You have such a pretty shaped head


My dad said this to me after my 10th million "I don't want to lose my hair" rant and I almost cried. "True, I do have a pretty shaped head" I thought (lol), but I don't want everyone else to see my bald pretty shaped head!! I start my first round of chemo tomorrow and I'm scared. I feel like I'm counting down to the end of my "normal" life and I know its not the right way to think but it really baffles me that for the rest of my life I will be associated with Cancer. Sure, "Cancer Survivor" sounds powerful, amazing and strong, but its never something I ever thought I would have to think about in association with myself. However, it is the hand that I was dealt, so I must attack it head-on.


And speaking of heads, my mission these next few weeks is to hold on to my hair. I have Hodgkin's Lymphoma-Nodular Sclerosing which is the most common and "popular" type (yea me!) and I will be taking the classic chemo cocktail of ABVD which according to Wikipedia is the gold standard for treatment of the disease. Unfortunately ABVD is usually associated with hair loss however I am holding on to the fine print that states, "not all patients will lose their hair, everyone reacts differently to the drugs" so I am hoping that all of my hair won't fall out. I can't kid myself and think that my hair won't be affected, but I do believe that a positive attitude breeds positive outcomes, so I'm going with it. I've done some research and Nioxin hair care creates shampoos and conditioners for thinning hair and has proved to help reduce hair loss during chemo for some people. So you betta believe I have a full box ready to go. I also have my boar bristle brush to reduce breakage when brushing and my Global Goddess oil to moisturize my ends--battle tools ready!! And when all fails I am planning on getting a human hair wig in which I will channel my inner Beyonce--not that I haven't done that before sans wig. Hmmm....actually I have channeled B with a wig as you'll see in the pic above from my 25th bday/Halloween party...I do love me some Beyonce!

So we shall see, I know the odds are against me (about 75% of people do lose their hair) but that means I can be a part of the lucky 25% right? Plus I got a pretty shaped head :)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Yes, we have the results....it's Hodgkin's

July 29, 2009....I heard those words and at first I didn't cry. I'm not sure why, for some crazy reason I expected it, I imagined hearing it so many times, but it's never real until your doctor says it to you. Yet, still I wondered, how did this happen to me?? I felt a large swollen lymph node above my collarbone towards the end of May. I had recently been sick with a cold and I knew that your lymph nodes can swell when you're sick, but I still thought it was odd, so I did what you're supposed to do when you don't know something...I google'd it (my first of many googles unfortunately) and I found that swollen lymph nodes could be caused by a multitude of things: strep throat, measles, ear infections, Tuberculosis, Lupus, Leukemia, Lymphoma.

Wait, Wait, Wait, Leukemia and Lymphoma??? That's Cancer (yes with a capital C)!! And being the hypochondriac I am, I automatically assumed I had it. Then I told myself I was crazy, I'm healthy, I try to eat right, yes I probably have the occasional cocktail but I work out and I get a lot of sleep...I'm literally in the best shape of my life right now so I simply can't have Cancer. Yet when I continued to scour the Internet for more info on swollen lymph nodes, I saw that it was often one of the first signs of Hodgkin's and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Good news...this type of cancer has 90-95% survival rate, bad news, uh its Cancer. So I immediately was freaked out.

I made an appt with a doctor and was told that I needed to have a lymph node biopsy to determine the cause of the swelling. While I waited for the results of the biopsy, I felt a range of emotions. I had moments when I was convinced I had cancer and other moments when I chanted that I was fine. After all I didn't have the other Lymphoma symptoms...fevers, appetite loss (I definitely had a cheeseburger and fries after my surgery), severe weight loss (uh no, see: cheeseburger and fries), and itching. I did however have a few night sweats and that was a cause for concern.

So when I got the actual diagnosis from my doctor, it wasn't completely shocking but it was certainly devastating. And one of the first things I thought of was, "I don't want to lose my hair." I'm not ashamed...I like to look good and I spend time each day "putting on my face" and doing my hair. I joke that I'm vain, but when it comes down to it, the idea of being bald AND without eyebrows AND without eyelashes really freaked me out...as it would most women. My appearance and my style is very much a part of me, sounds a bit shallow but I truly believe if you look good, you feel good so I try to put my best foot forward each day. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this whole thing, but I've determined one thing: I have to stay positive and I have to stay me, and that means beating cancer, while of course staying fabulous:)