Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Family Photo 12/14Next month will be 3 years since I was diagnosed.  My life is full and active and not-at-all about cancer, so check-up days are surreal.  And emotional.

During treatment, Emory was the only place I felt I belonged.  Now, I am out of place in my healthfulness.  And I get overwhelmed with empathy for the people in the waiting rooms.  Endless appointments, bodies that are always hurting, life or death decisions to make for which they’ve received no training.

If anything, it’s all a heavy reminder that life can change in an instant. Oh, how we need to cherish what we have!

Flashbacks as I walk through the halls.
Going up and down those stairs to raise my blood counts so I could stay on my chemo schedule.

The huge guy in the lab who scared me with his gruffness.  Then made me laugh talking smack about his friends on the Emory softball team.  Then became my favorite person on the planet when he shared the climbing stairs/drinking Coke secret.

The kids playing Queen of Hearts on that bench while they waited for me to get my Neulasta shot.

Being irritated by the “washing hands saves lives” signs in all of the bathrooms.

Going home after a 12-hour day, grateful for the meal on the front porch and the friends who acted like having our kids over for the longest playdate ever wasn’t inconvenient.

3-months Check-up
On 12/5, I saw Joan at the Survivorship Clinic.  Physical exam, bloodwork to check liver function and make sure there’s not evidence of secondary blood cancers.  And, talking.

Most recurrences are discovered because of something the patient reports, so they ask and I tell about every little physical thing.

But there’s not much to complain about!  I do have intermittent pain in my left arm – from a nerve or enlarged lymphatic vessel – and sometimes I get itches deep under my skin that I can’t scratch.  Because I’m still numb, I have scratched myself bloody.  But it’s all just nerves growing back.

Raynaud's syndromeMy other symptom is “Raynaud’s syndrome.”  It’s not unique to cancer survivors, but the cause of mine is almost certainly chemo. When my hands get cold, my fingers get prickly, then numb. Then they hurt and turn white.  The cool, damp weather we’ve been having makes it almost a daily issue.  I’ve dropped groceries, lost hold of our dog’s leash and (gasp!) not been able to use my phone.   But as soon as I can warm up, all is ok.  Nothing to do but try to prevent it.

Thank you, Santa, for putting hand warmers in my stocking!

My next appointment is March 6 with Dr. Zelnak.  She co-developed my clinical trial with Dr. O’Regan, who has left Emory for another position.

We’ll be forever grateful to Dr. O’Regan and wish her the best.

Thanks for checking in!  All is good – I’m a lucky one.
Nicole

One Year After Chemo

Wishing that all cancer fighters could be so lucky.

Love,
Nicole

Where the Buffalo Roam

We are a week into the new school year and all is well!

We ended Summer break with a lot of adventure in 3 of our country’s most beautiful states – Oregon, Montana and Wyoming.

A quick stop in Portland was all about family, and we spent a terrific evening with my cousin Kurt and his crew.  Our kids hardly remember each others’ names – it’s been a long 2 years with both families fighting cancer – but they had such fun together!  The next morning, Dan – another of my Most Awesome Cousins – and his girlfriend gamely stood in line with us at Voodoo Doughnuts before we caught a flight to MT.

In Yellowstone, we were amazed by the bison, geysers and huge buck that hung out at our campsite.  But biking along Montana’s Gravelly Range, with only a herd of antelope racing by, was the highlight for me.

The time I spent riding alone next to each of our children (both during this trip and in Colorado 2 years ago) ranks as my proudest and most enjoyable as a mom.

Sara rode 15 miles one day, telling me stories the whole way.  I wish I could bottle the contentment I saw on her face, to save for her for the years ahead.  When she came to my tent later and asked if we could do yoga together – she had to be exhausted – my heart nearly burst!

Sam would tell you that it was too much biking for him, but he sang Ease on Down the Road at the top of his lungs while he pedaled!  His killer smile was on full display when he saw snow, peed outside, rode through a herd of sheep and watched our guide Wes do cool tricks on his bike.

He also hunted for a special place in camp each evening to set up his plastic toy animals.  There was “Pine Tree Peak,” “Matt’s and My Mini Man-Made Mountain” (after our guide Matt) and, at the base of Black Butte Mountain, just “The Rock.”

Joey and I got in a little riding time alone and still love each other after a week of not bathing and sharing a tiny tent.

Nature does the heart and mind good.  And makes the body stinky.

Back Home
I’m getting ready to coach Sara and 15 other girls on a Girls on the Run team this Fall, and I just started a new Zumba® Kids class at the YMCA.  Tomorrow I start teaching my first weekly adults’ class since treatment.

Joey is rehearsing for Capitol City Opera’s production of La Bohème – when he’s not at the job that pays for our awesome vacations!  He’ll sing in the chorus and play the toymaker, Parpignol, in shows September 6-8.  Other than filling in on a couple of barbershop shows (and reading Family Book every night!), it’ll be his first time on stage since Sam was born.

We are very proud of him and thoroughly enjoying speaking in Italian accents around the house!

Medical Update
My right implant continues to head south, but not enough yet to make me want more surgery, so I canceled my August appt with Dr. Woods.  Don’t care about the other cosmetic stuff right now, either.

In physical therapy, I graduated to strength training for my left shoulder, where the muscles have atrophied.  The therapists think it’s too soon to focus on my pecs, which are still so tight from radiation.

A new development is pain in my left hand that goes from my thumb and forefinger into my wrist.  I haven’t had it looked at, yet, so no idea if it’s treatment-related or not.  I actually thought it might be from braking while going downhill on the bike for so many miles, trying to stay next to cautious Sara :)

But none of this is affecting me much.  My next check-up at Emory is in October.

Thank you for checking in!

Nicole

Loving these summer months!

Last week I had a check-up with my oncologist, Dr. O’Regan.  In defiance of ever being sickly, I wore a bright dress and new shoes.  After I had blood drawn, Dr. O’Regan did a physical exam, complimented my shoes and sent me on my way.

More good news – I taught 2 Zumba classes (subbing for other instructors) and my boobs didn’t fall off!  Seriously, the right implant feels like it will drop onto the floor at any moment.  So I wear a bra, all of the time.  I’m still hoping it’s just a sensation I’ll get used to, but I suspect I’ll be back in the operating room eventually.

In the meantime, we’re off on another fabulous Yates Family Adventure!

Friday, we fly to Portland, Oregon, to visit family.  We’ll spend a couple of nights in downtown Portland before flying to Bozeman, Montana on Sunday.

Early Monday we join Western Spirit Cycling and another family (whom we don’t know) for 5 days of biking and camping.  We’ll ride across the Gravelly Range (mountains northwest of Yellowstone) into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and, by Thursday, into Yellowstone National Park.  Back in Bozeman Friday night.

This will be my 3rd Western Spirit trip (our 2nd as a family).  The first two were fabulous, so we have high expectations – physical activity, nothing but fresh air, awesome scenery and expert guides who make it a vacation as well as an adventure!

Joey and I can’t wait to see that part of the country and get recharged.  The kids have been wearing their headlamps for days.

We’ll fly home to Atlanta Saturday, 8/2.  Then we meet the kids’ teachers on Monday and school starts Wednesday.

Enjoy the rest of your summer – we will!

Nicole

Run Your Own Race

This past 4th of July I ran my first Peachtree Road Race.

I was SO happy to be there.

I almost didn’t go because I hadn’t trained properly.  Sure, I’d had surgery the month before and couldn’t do much.  But, frankly, I didn’t do anything.

Instead, I sat on my butt and whined about the things I couldn’t do.  I spent too much time on Facebook begrudging working Zumba instructors and friends who posted about their BRFs, PRs and WODs.  It was ugly and my negativity made for some unusually blah days around here.

I went to the race, anyway.  1 of 60,000.

The overcast skies were a blessing for those of us who hadn’t trained in the heat.  The huge flag at the start was awesome and I was startled by how grateful I felt to be American.  I thought about my cousins Brett and Mike, and my grandfather, and every other soldier who has ever braved real fireworks on behalf of the rest of us.

The start of the M wave (M for “mosey”) was kind of anticlimatic, but running through Buckhead was like a slideshow of my early twenties.  Then I passed Piedmont Hospital where I left both of my breasts and the last of my cancer.  Next was Midtown where I restarted my advertising career and finally grew comfortable in my own skin (age 27, give or take).  Just in time to meet my husband…

Who was waiting for me at Piedmont Park.

Truth be told, I didn’t run all of the race.  I even walked a few times, crossing the finish line in 1:16:08.  Not a time I’d gleefully post on Facebook.  Even so, the only disappointment of the day was the color of my first ever Peachtree shirt.

The lessons here?  Participate.  Run your own race.  And, smile when you see the cameras.

Nicole