Monday, January 31, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Joyce Edition

Incredibly, I have my very last chemo treatment scheduled for tomorrow.  I cannot believe it's here.  You know what they say:  "Time flies when you have cancer"...or something like that.
I've been thinking a lot about makeovers lately.  Maybe it's due to awards season, and the fact that I can't help but watch all of the Hollywood starlets as they arrive on the red carpet.  I love it when movie stars look nothing like the characters in their films.  Yes, these really are pictures of the same woman (the fantastic Melissa Leo from "The Fighter"):

In character as Alice Ward

On the red carpet at the Golden Globes

At least Ollie loves the bed

Or maybe my love of makeovers is due to my addiction to HGTV, and my desire to have one of those celebrity designers come and decorate my bedroom.  I even made an audition video to be on an HGTV show.  I figured I might as well pull the cancer card, considering these shows like to dramatize everything.  I can see it now:  "Joyce was suffering from breast cancer.  Things weren't looking too good until we came to give her a relaxing oasis for a bedroom where she could heal.  Now, remarkably, the cancer is gone."  Seriously though, you can go online to view my video (which is completely embarrassing) and vote for us:  We're asking for "one star" votes, because the "uber ugly" rooms are the most likely to get made over, right?

Or maybe this makeover mentality is due to my own current appearance.  As I mentioned in my last post, my eyelashes have fallen out.  At this point, my eyebrows are pretty much gone, too.  Now when I wake up and look in the mirror, my face (and head) is completely void of any defining features.  My first thought is always "Good Lord!  When did that cancer patient sneak in here?!?"  My friends who have known me since high school can attest to the fact that it has always taken me a very long time to get ready.  Now my makeup process is even more extensive:  dealing with dry, chapped skin (from the chemo) that is even more acne-prone than it used to be (from the steroids), gluing on eyelashes, penciling in all adds up to quite a bit of time.  At least my hair is easier than before.  I literally just throw it on.

Fake hair, eyebrows, & lashes!

The good news is that hair starts to regrow as soon as chemo leaves the body.  The bad news is that it might be 6 months before I have enough hair on my head to where I don't feel bald.    The exciting part is that there is no telling what my new hair color and texture will be.  If often grows back very differently after one has undergone chemo, and it usually comes in very curly, at least at first.  Might I have gorgeous locks like Taylor Swift?  In my dreams! 
Additionally, I have scheduled my surgery for March 23.  This is definitely the most "extreme" portion of the makeover.  I will have a bilateral (both sides) mastectomy with reconstruction.  I have another meeting with my surgeons (oncology and plastics) next week, but based on my initial consultation and my own consideration, I will be having a "Lat Flap" procedure (Latissimus Dorsi Tissue Flap Breast Reconstruction).  Rather than posting diagrams, I'll just let you Google that one on your own.  It sounds like a crazy surgery, but I've talked with women who are really happy with it.  And again, I'm at Emory, where breast reconstruction was pioneered.  I'm truly in the best facility for it. 
While I'm looking at a major surgery and major recovery time, I will luckily have my in-laws here during and after the surgery.  Dad-in-law is an ear, nose & throat surgeon -- not a breast cancer specialist, but someone who knows a little something about the human body, surgery and recovery, so he's good people to have around.  Mom-in-law is an accomplished cook, book provider and mother who can lovingly tend to my needs as well as those of my husband, who might be freaking out and feeling a bit helpless during this process.
So this is my makeover story.  I'll post more details about surgery as they become available, along with a disclaimer about the contents of the post.  Some people are curious, but others get a bit squeamish when it comes to gory details.  I am normally in the latter group, so I totally get it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Comes to Hotlanta

Somehow another two weeks has passed.  Highlights/lowlights of the past 14 days include:  Another chemo treatment; My beloved Colts losing to the Jets in the playoffs; Mom-in-law visiting from Minnesota; Four inches of snow that shut down Atlanta for nearly a week; An unexpected visit from a dear friend;  Attaching false eyelashes where my own used to be; Relearning to knit at a knitting workshop; My nemeses, the New England Patriots, being eliminated from the NFL playoffs (after my team is eliminated, I have to root for something, you know?).

Chemo continues to go as well as can be expected.  After tomorrow morning's treatment I will only have one infusion left.  This is mind-boggling to me, as it feels like chemo has just become a way of life.  After February 1 I will be completely done with this part of my treatment and looking (forward?) to surgery.  That part still scares the bejesus out of me, so I'm trying not to think about it just yet.

Aaron's mom, Becky, was here for 5 days.  We picked her up from the airport Sunday afternoon, went to the grocery store where we proceeded to buy half the store, and went home before the snow started.  We woke up to this sight on Monday morning:
Back Deck

Back Deck/Woods

Back Deck/Woods

Front Porch/Street

This may be only four inches of snow, but to the folks in Atlanta, it's a week off from school.  You read that correctly.  A WEEK!  Granted, there was a layer of ice over the snow, but there was some good melting/road treatment going on prior to Friday.  I hope the kids in Minnesota don't hear about this.  Because mom-in-law was here and because we were well-stocked, we had a great time being stuck indoors, cooking, baking and hanging out by the fire.

On Friday I dropped Aaron and his mom off at the airport (Aaron went to Minneapolis for the weekend) and met my dear friend, Ashley, along with much of her family at the Varsity drive-in.  She was in town due to unfortunate circumstances, as both of her mother's parents passed away within a week of each other, but we were able to share some hugs and catch up a bit over a quick lunch. 

Ashley and her adorable daughter, Josephine
Josephine sporting the official headgear of the Varsity

Apparently she is not a fan of hats
Finally, the inevitable has happened.  My eyelashes have left me.  This is the day I've been dreading ever since I started to lose the hair on my head.  I've never had particularly full or thick lashes, and they've always been very blonde, but clumping on tons of mascara has always made me feel quite feminine.  Just like Julia Roberts in "Charlie Wilson's War" I would put on as much black gunk as my tiny lashes could hold and then do my best to separate the clumps into spidery threads.  What's a girl to do without her magic tube of mascara to make her eyes stand out?  Well, she goes to the nearest Target and buys fake lashes.  I'll get to Sephora one of these days to get some fancy lashes, but for now I'm getting lots of practice (and it takes a LOT of practice) with the cheap ones.  I'll post pictures once I really get the hang of it!  My eyebrows are also starting to thin out, but there are some stubborn hairs that are holding on for dear life.  It's good to know that even some of my hair follicles have a bit of fight left in them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011? Really?

So much has happened since I last blogged.  It is now 2011 (seriously? how did that happen?), I am now 30 years old (for real?), the holidays have come and gone, and the TCU (my alma mater) Horned Frogs are Rose Bowl champs (the game provided the perfect excuse to sport my purple wig)! 

Aaron and I had a great time visiting with my family in Dalhart, TX.  I'm not sure Aaron would describe it as "relaxing," considering he is a favorite uncle to jump on, play video games with, and read stories with. 

We hadn't been to Dalhart since last Christmas, so it was good to catch up with the family. We heard on the news that Atlanta had a white Christmas for the first time since the 1880, but we were okay with missing it.  If we get too desperate for snow, we can just hop on a flight to visit family in Minnesota.

We are home in Atlanta again, and aside from a minor cold all is going well.  Aaron is working on lectures for the two classes he'll be teaching this semester, and I go in tomorrow morning for my second Taxol chemo treatment.  I mentioned in my previous post that Taxol is "chemo-light", but maybe I should just call it "chemo-different."  While it is very nice to have little-to-no nausea, the bone pain that comes along with this type of chemo is quite uncomfortable.  I noticed it especially in my legs, where it felt like I had terrible shin splints, something I didn't think I'd have to worry about, as I'm not running while on chemo.  Still, I would pick bone pain over nausea if I had to choose. 

After this treatment I'll only have two more chemo sessions to go!  It's hard to believe, but tomorrow will be my four month "cancerversary."  Four months have gone by, and I'm still receiving cards and care packages from my wonderful support group.  Thank you all so very much!  One member of my support group, my mom-in-law, is flying in on Sunday and will be here through Friday the 14th.  We can't wait to see her and reap the benefits of her cooking prowess!