Hi friends! We made it through Chemo #15 on November 15th (my second dose of the Red Devil) and I’m getting ready for Chemo #16 tomorrow!! The aftermath of my last treatment (as expected) was unpleasant to say the least. The nausea and side effects seemed to linger longer this time around and truth be told, I’m still not feeling great (trying to get over a sinus infection that I’ve had since Thanksgiving). BUT- I’m thankful that I was able to receive treatment and that I’m one step closer to being finished with the planned block of chemo!
I’m hoping and praying that I will be healthy enough to receive chemo #16 tomorrow. Since I already had a Neulasta shot after the last chemo treatment, if my counts are not high enough tomorrow, then we won’t be able to do anything but wait. (I’m not a doctor, but from what I understand Neulasta is a bone marrow stimulant that helps my body make white blood cells after receiving chemo. (So, if you have some time- say a few prayers that I’m able to receive chemo tomorrow!)
Assuming all goes well with my chemo, I’m scheduled to have a double mastectomy mid-January (yay!) and begin radiation after that. My doctors think I will need the “maximum amount” of radiation, which means I would get radiation 5 days a week (Monday-Friday) for 6 weeks total (about 30-35 treatments). I don’t have a lot of information about that yet and I’ve got a lot to talk about tonight, so I’ll save those details for another blog post. I’m just sitting down to write this blog (at 6:30 pm after a full day of work) so the grammar may be atrocious….just bear with me.
I shared this on Facebook already, but for my friends/family who aren’t on social media, check out this video. My friend Jamie Adams was the commencement speaker at Louisiana Tech’s graduation last weekend. As I was watching his speech (live) he surprised me with this.
Wow. Something I will cherish forever. He really is an incredible friend…and human. Mark and I are so lucky to have him in our life.
My first chemo treatment was on May 31, 2018. I like to think I have learned some things along the way- (some things I’ve learned from other cancer survivors and other things are simply trial and error). But, if sharing my experience helps even one person, then it will be worth it. So, in no particular order here is a random collection of things and thoughts I’d like to share:
- If you are going to use “cold caps” to prevent hair loss, do yourself a favor and purchase (a) maxi pads to put on your forehead [yes, you heard me correctly] (b) cheesecloth to keep your hair from getting stuck in the Velcro on the actual cap [ripping out your hair is counter-productive] and (c) a pair of band-less ear muffs like these [you’ll thank me later]: https://smile.amazon.com/Sprigs-Earbags-Bandless-Earmuffs Thinsulate/dp/B001ONGAOM/ref=sr_1_3_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1543184731&sr=8-3-spons&keywords=bandless+ear+warmers&psc=1
- During any Adriamycin or Abraxane chemo infusion, keep your mouth cold (I eat popsicles). This will help prevent mouth sores for the most part.
- Find out if your chemo drugs cause neuopathy (for me, this was Abraxane). You can avoid neuropathy by icing down your hands and feet during that infusion. Yes, it is as pleasant as it sounds. However, for what it’s worth, I have been “doing the chemo thing” for quite a while now and I do not have any neuropathy. Chemo has become quite a spectacle simply trying to avoid hair loss, mouth sores, and neuropathy. Here is some chemo-realness for you….. Exhibit A:
and wow- I have amazing friends to put up with me….and feed me popsicles!)
4. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, get ready for LOTS of unsolicited DIET advice. When I was diagnosed, I was overwhelmed with well-meaning friends and acquaintances that were chomping at the bit to tell me how/what/when I should/should not be eating/drinking. In my case, I have always had a balanced diet and tried my best to continue that through chemo (for the most part…I did force my husband to buy a box of Lucky Charms the other day). Regardless, my advice is to establish a medical team you trust and ask their opinion about your diet. If you listen to everyone’s opinion on what you should be eating it can become overwhelming (and frankly, chemo is hard enough).
5. You will see the absolute best in people. There will be people from your past that reach out to you in the most amazing ways (not to mention your current friends and family). Seeing this unfold in combination with my faith in God has allowed me to experience more joy than I ever thought possible. [For example, here’s my friend Brandon serving our country and supporting me from the other side of the world in Doha Qatar].
Oddly enough…Doha was also special this year because Sam Mikulak (son of my sweet friends Linda and Steve) won his first world medal on the high bar last month in Doha. Small world! Even with his busy schedule Sam made time to send me this video. Amazing.
6. On the flip side (to keep it real), some people may disappoint you, and that’s okay. My friend David (a colon cancer survivor) warned me about this and I honestly didn’t believe him at the time. People are going through their own trials and tribulations. Just because you don’t hear from someone after your diagnosis or they disappoint you in some way, it doesn’t mean they don’t care or they aren’t thinking about you. I will say the “disappointment” aspect (to me) has been so minuscule compared to the amount of love I have felt. My unsolicited advice is to pray for the people who disappoint you and if they are in your life, try to show them love.
7. Your friends will step up in ways you can’t imagine. You will appreciate the people in your life so much more. For example…
……. another example my doorbell JUST rang (literally) as I was typing this. I opened the door to find my friend Jenny Ridge standing there with dinner for us in hand she (and so many people) have cooked meals for us since my diagnosis. If you are reading this and have cooked for us- THANK YOU. Seriously.
8. If you are lucky enough to have your parents in your life- you might begin to understand how much a parent loves their child. I know everyone’s experiences are different, but my mom or dad would trade places with me in a second without thinking. They both have expressed that they would rather have cancer than for me to have to go through this. […and of course, my dad (Burl) always reminds me that he would “take a bullet for me….or give one if needed” ….just kidding… Burl is not a violent man…he is the sweetest]. My parents have been incredible to me my entire life, but especially now. My mom is coming down this weekend to help take care of things around the house when I’m sick in bed from chemo. She loves me unconditionally and has shown me (by example) how to be a strong woman [and my Step Dad (Randy) has been so caring and supportive] you may remember him from the wedding video saying “you don’t know how much we love you”. For that matter, there hasn’t been one day in my life that my dad (Burl) hasn’t told me that he loves me. Since we convinced him to get an iPhone, at the end of almost every (daily) FaceTime conversation he says “I love you more than I love myself”. Since I don’t have children of my own I think I finally “get it”. That is one reason I fight so hard, for my parents. I want to be around a long time to enjoy them. If you’re still reading…..(I know this is a longer blog) here is some unsolicited advice: call your parents tonight. Tell them that you love them and that you appreciate them. Speaking of parents, I have a brand new set of parents (Barbera and John). Let me tell you, I hit the in-law lottery. Apologies for being so sappy, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t FEEL how much they love me like their own child. They aren’t flashy people. They quietly help behind the scenes because they don’t want any credit. They genuinely just want to help without being intrusive. Mark’s extended family has shown me the same kindness that I have received from my own family and it is truly a blessing.
9. Old friendships will rekindle….and amaze you. My Cedar Creek/Ruston/La Tech family…..you know who you are. This will have to be a separate blog post!
10. Be vulnerable and try to enjoy each day. If you haven’t already…..listen to The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown. It might change your perspective. https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Power-of-Vulnerability-Audiobook/B00CYKDYB
11. If you have the blessing of being healthy, NOW is the time to be in the best shape you can be emotionally and physically. I hope that most of the people reading this blog will never be given the news “you have cancer” but if you are, being strong physically and emotionally will give you a leg up. (Apologies for the slang, but I’m trying to be efficient with my time here). Along the same lines of being in shape physically, being in shape spiritually will do wonders for you if you ever have to face this. My faith has been a huge source of peace and comfort during this time….and my faith has grown exponentially since my diagnosis. For that, I’m grateful. When I feel like I want to control things (I’m bad about that) I just stop and say a prayer….and it helps. If you have friends who you are comfortable praying with, reach out to them. Sometimes I tell mark “we need a good Matt and Kandi prayer!” (Brother Helms always has a way with words and they are both amazing examples of how a marriage can thrive when you put God first).
12. New people will come into your life and you will wonder how you’ve managed to do life without them for so long (looking at you Elizabeth, Linda, Mary, KiKi, Stacie, Jamie, Danielle……)
13. For the most part, doctors and nurses choose that career because they genuinely want to help people. I’ve been so fortunate to have a medical team that goes above and beyond for me every single day. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to do their job. I’m forever grateful to have them and to have the ultimate physician (the Lord) on my side. Unsolicited advice: take some time and get to know your nurses (and doctors) if you can- they’re amazing people.
I’ll keep this list open ended because I want to go have dinner with my husband and rest up for tomorrow….Chemo #16!! I’m praying that if it is in God’s plan, after tomorrow’s treatment, I will only have ONE chemo left. ONE people. I can’t tell you how amazing that would be. Thanks for tuning in if you’re still reading….and I promise documentary wedding videos and pictures (from my favorite Canadians) are coming. I have some fun stuff I want to share when I have time to put it all together.
Thanks for all the love and prayers,
Holly Hollis Stars