Monday, February 25, 2008

My Funny Valentine

I know -- Valentine's Day was eleven days ago, and we did celebrate it on time although it's taken much longer to blog about it.

I decided to use what's left of my right brain to make special valentines for my family, using their special songs (you might have heard of them from my blog soundtrack). You can click on the links below to hear them in mp3 format. They were serious and a little sentimental, but if any of these sound funny, keep in mind that these were one-take wonders and far from perfect!

My son's song

My daughter's song

Prince Charming's song

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Yep, it's the 12th of the month -- again!!!

The number twelve is on (what's left of) my mind today, because I'm now twenty-six months post-diagnosis, which is twelve months past the "optomistic" prognosis of fourteen months that I was told to expect.

If I were a bottle of milk this far past my expiration date I'd be pretty darn gross. Luckily, except for a touch of the flu I feel very much alive and not at all sour.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

My Coin Sister

Cancer has its privileges.

I got an urgent message last month to call my aunt. "Krista, I need you!" was the tearful voice that answered the phone.

My aunt had just been diagnosed with colon cancer.

I remembered the kindness of others who had "been there" so that they could "be there" for me when the shock of the C-word hit my life. Back then I didn't know if I would survive to be in a position to help instead of being helped, and so I considered it a privilege to be needed by my aunt, and to be available to try and help.

Laughter helps. We call each other the "coin sisters" (I got heads, she got tails). And to make this picture even more perfect, we acknowledged that the person who links us together is her older brother -- my father -- who grew up being nicknamed "Flip." Interestingly, the Avastin chemotherapy that is working so well for me is used off-label for brain tumors, because it is approved for use in treating colon cancer. (I always knew I was covered from top to bottom.) So we potentially had that in common.

Clean living and prayer can't prevent every possible ailment (we all have to die from something at some point), but it paid off for my coin sister. She has gone through surgery and so far things look very favorable. The doctors believe they caught this in time before it spread. So hopefully long life will be another thing we share in common.

So why is there so much cancer touching the people in our lives? I've heard many theories, from cell phones to chemicals to the theorist's political agenda of the day. My personal theory is that we are running out of other things to die from, so our cells have more opportunity to mutate.

We put our babies to sleep on their backs, and we vaccinate them. Fisher Price's Little People toys aren't chokable-sized like they were when I was a kid. Schools have vigorous "peanut free" policies and "zero tolerance" against weapons or drugs (even if said weapon is a kindergartener's finger and the drug is a bag of lemon cough drops). We have better safety features in our cars. We have antibacterial soap and better food safety practices. We have medical advances that save more lives than ever. Workplace hazards are not like they were during the industrial revolution. We try to keep lead out of dishes and paint and pipes and toys. People don't go onto airplanes with more than 3 ounces of liquid or gel on their person. Stuff like that.

The average life expectancy is double what it was a century ago, which means that DNA gets to replicate more often than it used to. Each replication is a roll of the dice, and when it replicates incorrectly, that's cancer. And since everyone has a time to be born and a time to die, if we have eliminated infant mortalities and finger-gun attacks and lead poisoning from the population then something else has to call people home when it's their time. (I'm glad it's not spontaneous combustion.) But now as more people are surviving cancer, and when they finally eradicate it with a cure then we'll start to see something else emerge, like people Botoxing themselves into suspended animation in their extreme old age.

Until then, my coin sister and I share an opportunity to see each day of our lives as a gift. And between heads and tails and having half a mind and being the butt of jokes we have plenty of material for sharing some good, immune-boosting laughs.

Starting #6 of 6

Cycle # 6 of maintenance chemotherapy began this week. My labwork was good enough to proceed, and I aced my neuro tests again (no frog this time; just fox, pizza, and baseball, and proving that -- as always -- I am sober).

I showed up for my neuro test and treatment in my Book Signing Barbie suit, because prior to my appointment I had attended some meetings. The night before I had attended my karate class and talked with a friend about the upcoming Messiah concert (which by the way will no longer have any arias in it, so my Easter tradition of "cancer freak has half a mind to sing Messiah solos" appears to have ended for non-medical reasons). Reflecting on all these activities with a small grin, I realized that this was not what I envisioned two years ago. Back then I was unable to drive, I was in my initial round of chemotherapy and radiation, and living under the threat of a "maybe fourteen months" lifetime of deterioration. The life I enjoy today is much better. It's the life that many people have prayed for (and are still praying for), and I am very grateful for that.

Thus begins the sixth of six planned maintenance treatment cycles. In four weeks I have a turning point MRI. If this one is good, the plan is to graduate from "maintenance" to "monitoring." For as long as the tumor cells stay "asleep," I would be free from bi-weekly chemo infusions. Free from weekly labwork, where the phlebotomist and I go searching for a non-scarred vein. Free from daily Benadryl to help me cope with my allergy to Avastin. The only thing I'd miss would be the regular interaction with the chemo nurses, because their humor is just as therapeutic as the drugs they administer. In exchange, I may get to be more nervous about MRI scans, but I've been there and done that before. It's like Barbra Streisand dealing with her stage fright, perhaps. In time you get used to it and channel that energy into something that works. (And in my case, I float on everyone's prayers.)

If next month's scan ends up with bad news, my doctor still has other tricks up her sleeve. I've seen patients go from hearing "I'm sorry -- just put your life in order" to reminiscing about it long afterward. The Lord's plan is more potent than a mass of tiny cells with DNA gone bad. The power of prayer can still summon miracles and sustain me through whatever must be. So there is still room for hope.

Even if the monster awakens with a vengeance, AND if it's time to put down my pencil and turn in my life's test, then there is still room for hope. In his recent passing, President Hinckley shared his testimony of that hope in a poem that was put to music for his funeral:

What is this thing that men call death,
This quiet passing in the night?
'Tis not the end, but genesis
Of better worlds and greater light.
O God, touch Thou my aching heart
And calm my troubled, haunting fears.
Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure,
Give peace and strength beyond my tears.
There is no death, but only change,
With recompense for victory won
The gift of Him who loved all men
The Son of God, the Holy One.
(Yeah, I think Head Games could be easily bumped from my blog soundtrack to make room for this one!)