“My thoughts are like butterflies that need pinned to a page.”

This quote is from a book I read recently, and it rang true for me. I feel that keeping this blog is a way for me to pin down my thoughts. I have a lot of butterflies floating around up there right now and my cognitive function is returning. So putting the thoughts down in words helps me make sense of things and act as a source of my memory. I still employ the use of lists and rely on them heavily. When I need to recall something from scratch, I eventually get there — maybe not as fast as I’m used to, but it is improving.

Near complete resolution

Yesterday I had my MRI to see how effective chemo was for me. Keep in mind that chemo was never intended to be my definitive treatment. It was meant to shrink the tumor and lymph nodes that were positive for malignancy. Surgery has always been the plan followed by radiation. Still is. That said, the Radiology Report reads as follows:

1. “Near complete resolution of previous mass and non-mass enhancement in the left breast consistent with response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy.”

2. “Decrease in size of known malignant axillary lymphadenopathy as well as decrease in size of enlarged intramammary node.”

3. “Decrease in size of malignant appearing intramammary nodes.”

“RECOMMENDATIONS: Appropriate surgical/clinical management recommended.”

Hand-scrawled notes by Dr. Paul to his nurse: “Call patient. Looks very good. Significant response to pre-op chemo treatment.”

So, this is all good news. The chemo did what it was supposed to do: shrink the tumor. And shrink it did! “Near complete resolution of previous mass.” I’ll take it!

Dr. Paul told me that it will be a month from now that my taste is completely normal, that my nose stops running and my eyes stop watering. He said he knows it’s not easy stuff, but overall, I handled it pretty well. Perhaps so, physically, but he wasn’t there to see me on some of those mornings when my emotional bucket was full. But then, maybe that’s part of handling it.

Herceptin treatment

Today I had my first Herceptin-only treatment. This is one of the medications that I received during chemo treatments as well, but I will continue to receive it for a full year, in total. This medication is an immunotherapy drug that specifically targets the HER2 cancer cells that are characteristic of my type of cancer. The treatment is given in the same way as chemo (through my port) and at the same interval (every three weeks), but it’s not like chemo in that it won’t make me sick, my hair will continue to grow back, and it doesn’t affect all my cells the way chemo did. It’s more targeted.

So far, I feel fine. Other than not wanting to be in the infusion room again, the treatment was painless and quick. This one takes only half an hour.

Pre-op consultation

After my treatment this morning, I met with my reconstructive surgeon for all of my pre-op instructions, consent forms, prescriptions and final questions. There was so much information. Nothing new in the big picture, but now we’re getting down to 10 days away and they’re starting to get into the details of post-op care. There is a lot to know and do. And I still really wish I didn’t have to know or do any of it.

Life in a Jar

I read a book recently called “Life in a Jar.” It’s about Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker in Warsaw during the holocaust. I’ll tell you a little about the story line, because she so inspiring, and then I’ll tell you why this book was so significant to me.

The story is told from her perspective starting at the time when Germany began its bombardment of Poland, to the formation of the Warsaw ghetto and to its decimation and beyond. At the beginning, she would falsify documents so that Jews could receive aid. Then once the occupation took place and the ghetto was formed, she and a network of government workers developed an elaborate method for rescuing Jewish children from the ghetto using the documents of actual Aryans who had died that were funneled to Irena and her network from a doctor who was involved. After they children were placed in a new or temporary home, Irena buried the lists of their names (Jewish to Aryan) in a jar under a tree so that if she were caught, the lists wouldn’t be found by the Nazis. She wanted the children to remember their real names, know they are Jewish and potentially reunite with their families after the war.

Every day, Irena would enter the ghetto under the pretense that she was there to help sick children suffering from Typhus and other diseases. But she had an escape route through a courthouse which sat half in the ghetto and half in the Aryan side of the wall. With the right payoffs and the right people in place, many children were rescued from the ghetto and placed in orphanages, churches, and Aryan families willing to help. Once the courthouse avenue was compromised, she began sneaking the children out through the sewer system and other underground tunnels.

The task of rescuing these children was difficult beyond measure. First, Irena risked her own life every time because aiding a Jew was a crime punishable by execution. Second, convincing the parents to give up their kids in the hope of being reunited after the war was too often impossible. Despite the inhumane conditions of the ghetto and rumors of the death camp at Treblinka, many Jews refused to believe that the Nazis would be so cruel, so they kept their kids. Ultimately, all 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were taken by cattle car to Treblinka. And the remains of the ghetto were leveled.

During those years, Irena felt so much anger toward the Nazis that it fueled her fire. She said that anger kept her going when fear paralyzed others. It was this anger that gave her the courage to keep going, taking greater and greater risks. Eventually, she was caught. She was taken to a Nazi prison where she was tortured, but refused to give up any information. Her death before the firing squad was imminent.

In the end, Irena survived the war. She even married the man she’d been in love with before the war, and they had a son together. Irena lived a long and happy life. She died on May 12, 2008. She was 98 years old! Her story wasn’t told until 2000 when some high school students in Kansas did a History project and uncovered the details of her heroic story. Irena said that she was not a hero, she was just doing what her heart needed to do. That made a lot of sense to me. I don’t consider myself a hero by any stretch and have never endured anything as horrible as Irena did. But when she explained her motivation, her anger, it all made sense to me. I feel like that when I see someone being mistreated. My anger at injustice motivates me, and it’s almost like I can’t help but act.

The whole time I was reading this book, I could barely put it down. I was compelled to read. I couldn’t go to bed with Irena bathing four kids in her tub after crawling through the sewer. I had to read beyond that to a safe place before I could leave her for the night. She was such an amazing inspiration.

And then I got to the end of the story and learned about her rescue from the prison, the remainder of her life and ultimately, her death — on May 12. That’s the same date as my surgery. When I read that I stopped. I just looked up and stared. It was no coincidence that this book came into my life. That this date was chosen for me as it was for her. (There was also a coincidence of dates in the book between when the students chose this subject for their project and the day that Irena’s son died.) She’s a pillar of strength and courage. I will draw strength from her on this day and adopt her as my patron saint of courage to endure what pales in comparison to so many others before me. I’m not looking forward to May 12, but I will be in good company on this day.

Weekend getaways

Last weekend, Michael and I took a couple of days to get away and enjoy some time with nothing to do! The Broadmoor is a great place to do that. We stayed in one of their new rooms in Broadmoor West. We had fantastic Sunday Brunch (my favorite meal in the world, by the way), amazing authentic Italian cuisine (my favorite food, by the way) and ended the night with housemade chocolate gelato (my favorite indulgence, by the way). We tried out all the restaurants available. We shopped. We lounged. We chilled. Oh, and then we had some more gelato. It was great!

Tomorrow morning, we are heading to Ouray to stay at the Orvis Hot Springs Resort. We’re taking our bikes and plan to stop for lunch in Palisade at my favorite little cafe with the BEST burger and fries west of the Rockies. I’m looking forward to some more R&R, in the natural pools, under the stars, surrounded by mountains.

Here are a few pictures of our stay at The Broadmoor.

IMG95009720150427_11462220150427_14590020150427_11462220150427_11451420150426_13305720150426_133119 (1)IMG950087

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