Wednesday, June 10, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude and Adventure!

Posted Nov 22, 2008 2:26pm

First let me say I can’t believe how good I feel – other than the nausea blip a couple of weeks ago, I’ve pretty much felt normal. My energy is high, my appetite is back, my nails seemed to have stopped splitting, and my brain is clear. Last weekend was the first stretch of time that I have really felt energetic enough to socialize since this whole chemo thing started, so I took full advantage of my burst of oomph.

On Friday, a few of my friends threw a “Chemo Shower” for me – we had a late lunch and they presented me with a beautiful array of scarves and big earrings! The waiter was a little confused after asking what the occasion was, but keeping with the spirit of celebration, he still brought us a big piece of chocolate cake smothered with warm fudge sauce for a complementary dessert. Please don’t feel offended if you were not invited; as one of my first outings, I didn’t want anyone to plan a big event and have to call a lot of people last minute if I pooped out. Up until this point, even with my best intentions, there have been too many times when I had to cancel plans.

Shortly after getting home, Dave & I took off for an evening with another group to celebrate a 40th birthday party. I just happened to have my camera, and since I was the only one who did, I kept busy all night taking pics, and stayed lively well past my usual crash-and-burn time! I also had a few requests to post pictures in this gallery of my assorted headgear, so I’ll follow up on that pretty soon, honest.

On the health side – here’s why I emphasized that I feel so good otherwise: The next morning I woke to feel little bumps all over my head. I looked in the mirror, and was horrified to see what looked like a massive acne breakout. Fortunately, it had not spread to my face. I will risk probably grossing you out because I know you love me anyways, but these were of the painful, yucky, glow-across-the-room variety that are usually reserved for the middle of your forehead on prom night. Good Grief.

What I should have done is immediately call my friend Myriam at TTE Skin Care to have her cover my head with her amazing natural clay treatment. What I did instead is soak my head in Epsom salts (a feat in itself), then protect it with antibiotic ointment, neither of which provided any kind of relief. The up side of all this – and you know I always find an up side – is that I could cover all this with a layer of gauze bandage under my usual headgear, and nothing showed.

I left a message for the oncology nurses, and although my description made them suspect shingles, my visit on Monday morning confirmed that it was folliculitis. As more hair is falling out, the follicles (roots) can get irritated; they are seeing this more frequently lately during the chemo process, although they don't know why there is a sudden increase. The other good news for me is that it was confined to my head. For some patients, their head, face and chest are covered with this mess.

The nurse said she could prescribe antibiotics, which she knows I would hate, or a topical antibiotic ointment, or… what did I have on for a more natural remedy? I love these ladies! For the next five days, Myriam covered my head with her magic clay and wrapped it in plastic wrap. I put my cap & scarf over this and left it on until bedtime. Not only was it wonderfully soothing, but as of today it is no longer painful or inflamed, and it’s well on the way to healing up.

On Sunday Dave took me on a high Sierra adventure - a repeat of his dirt bike ride the previous day - to visit the ruins of “Hotel Bret Hart.” In 1922 a hotel millionaire named A.P.T. Elder (who built the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in S.F) decided to build a 250-room wilderness retreat at this isolated and hard-to-reach spot. He had lumber and a thousand tons of material and equipment hauled in from up to 40 miles away. The chimney alone needed 250 tons of stone. The building was called Hotel Bret Harte and the land on which it stood, 350 acres along the Georgetown Divide, was known as Deer View. Unfortunately, the hotel never checked in a single paying guest.

Elder died suddenly just before its opening, and his family wasn't interested in the project. The place was abandoned, and fell victim to vandals and the elements until December of 1937, when a 9 foot snowfall caused the neglected, weakened hotel to collapse. When the Michigan California Lumber Company purchased the land in 1941, they burned the ruins. The remaining walls are a spectacular, colorful sight of moss-covered quartz. The dirt roads can be challenging to navigate, especially in wet weather, and require an off-road vehicle or a truck with a high clearance and good traction. I would not recommend venturing in without a guide, a Dept. of Forestry map, and an excellent sense of direction, but it is certainly worth the effort.

You can see pictures of the original hotel HERE (check out the links at the bottom of their page, too). And you can see the road we had to navigate to get there, as well as wonderful pictures of the ruins, at Deer View Today.

Fortunately Dave had a Forestry map to help us navigate through the maze of trails, but the signs are not always up to date (or even attached to their post), and on the way out we unknowingly wandered off our intended main dirt road to another. This ended up being a fortunate switch. A young lady on a dirt bike approached from the opposite direction on a curve, and frantically waved us down. When she took off her helmet, we saw she was in tears. She asked if she could borrow our cell phone to try to find her Dad, because she was lost. It was another miracle that we could even get reception up there. We were able to connect with him sporadically for about a minute at a time, which was enough to eventually lead us to where he was parked.

It was just after 4:00 p.m. when we met with her – late afternoon and getting dark quickly. Bear in mind that not only are the trails poorly marked, but she had been driving in the wrong direction for a half an hour. There are no headlights on a dirt bike (and NO street lights in the deep forest!); even with a map, too often we were surprised to find that we had unintentionally ended up off the main trails. The way you realize this is that the road suddenly narrows, ruts multiply, and puddles deepen. Even in the drier areas, the maximum speed a truck can move is 5-10 mph, and the roads were treacherous where the red clay was soaked and slick. There were several times we had to hold on and gun it up to a careening 15 mph to make it through a wet gully or to the top of a muddy hill along the cliffs. At any rate, Dave is an excellent driver, and it was all very exciting. Yet another example of it being just another ride until something goes wrong – and then it’s an adventure!

She followed us on the bike as Dave kept heading South, and we connected with her Dad just at sunset. After everyone breathed a sigh of relief, their discussion turned to a typical parent/teen bickering session debating the consequences of not following the rules vs. the rules are stupid and it’s not my fault. When we teased him about a big reward for the daring rescue, he laughed and reminded us she was a teenager, so we could keep her – or pay him to take her back. I think he was joking…

I also started the Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments this week at the office of Dr. Jared Thomas in Roseville. The chamber is tube-shaped, spacious and comfortable, with transparent oval windows at the top, so there was no problem with claustrophobia. The only discomfort is that as the pressure initially increases and then later decreases at the end of the session, your ears will pop quite a bit, similar to what happens in take off and landing during a flight. Throughout the 60 minute session, you can read, use electronics (phone or iPod) or just snooze – in which case it is a deep and restful sleep. I was concerned that I might feel tired after a session, but it’s more a sense of complete relaxation, similar to the way you feel after a massage. I had two sessions this week, and whether or not it’s related, when I went for my weekly blood test all my levels were normal for the first time. So I’ll continue treatments twice a week through chemo and radiation, and hopefully maintain my high blood counts and energy levels.

Next Tuesday is chemo #3 – what adventures await? I asked my chemo nurse about doing the detox foot baths, and she thought it was a good idea, as long as I waited at least 48 hours to let the chemo do its job. After our conversation, my understanding is that the reason the side effects of chemo are cumulative and folks typically feel progressively more sick with each treatment is due to the buildup of toxins. As the chemo kills off both cancer cells and healthy cells, it not only overloads the organs of detoxification, but decreases the number of healthy cells that would otherwise help the process. The body just can’t excrete all this junk and build new, healthy cells fast enough.

The foot baths may help to pull out the dead cells so the rest of my body doesn’t have to work so hard to eliminate them. I did one session this week, and felt fine. Continuing on my experimental path, I’ll do at least one more before Tuesday, another next weekend, and then at least 2 a week until chemo #4 – the final frontier!!

I have so much to be grateful for this year, and as I count my blessings, you are all an integral part of that expansive list. Thank you so much for your love, support and generosity. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving of bountiful health and joy, surrounded by people that are close to your heart.
Love, Laurie