Geocaching Mackinac Island

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We had an awesome 3 days on the Island. We stopped on the drive up at one of Lisa’s caches that needed maintenance. It was a good first cache to introduce Tammy to the sport, since she was a Muggle. We normally stop at a few on the drive north, but since we were going all the way to the Island this trip and we still needed to catch a Ferry, we only stopped at the one. Still it took us until afternoon to get there.image

We biked to our bed and breakfast which was next door to St Anne’s Catholic Church (very convenient for Sunday morning mass ๐Ÿ™‚ ) to check in then immediately took off for a bike ride around the perimeter of the Island. There was going to be a race the next day on this route and we didn’t want to get caught up in that, so our plan was to bike around it our first night. We found only 8 geocaches on that trip although there are many more along the route, because it was taking so long to stop and find each one, we started to realize we were going to run out of daylight if we didn’t do more biking and less geocaching.

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And there aren’t a lot of surprises when you do “park and grabs”. They were either in the small bit of trees to the left of the road, or hidden in the rocky shoreline on the other side of the road – not a lot of places to hide them along this path. We are used to hiking through the woods to geocache, but we were in such a beautiful place it was fun anyway. It was windy and a little cold on the eastern side of the Island but as soon as we turned the corner at the northern tip, the wind eased up and it was more bearable.

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We were definitely ready for dinner when we got done. It was 8.5 miles around the Island. I felt surprisingly strong and energized.

On Saturday, we biked up into the interior of the Island to avoid the crowds at the race. We went up the path alongside the Fort – had to walk the bikes up that slope of course. I had been a little worried that I would have leg cramps and issues since being so physically inactive during chemo, but I again felt surprisingly good. ๐Ÿ™‚ We found a total of 15 geocaches, and had one “did not find” (DNF).

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Lisa had some cool t-shirts made for us – we are officially now the ‘DNF Squad’ ๐Ÿ™‚ If you’ve never been to Mackinac, Fall is a beautiful time to go. Not too hot, and not usually as crowded as during the dead of summer. This was the first time I had taken a bike, since we usually go with kids and at least one of them was always too young to go biking around. It was fun to be able to get to places we can’t normally go.

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On one trail we met a very nice lady, along with her son and daughter-in-law, who was fascinated with what we were doing. So we invited her to hike along with us to our next geocache, and they all came with us. She thought it was awesome, and we explained that they were no longer Muggles. Since they weren’t from Michigan, we showed her on the geocache mapย  that there were even caches in her hometown, very close to where she lived. She said she was going to get the free geocaching app and check it out when she got home. Yay – we love to get others started in the sport ๐Ÿ˜€

After heading back to town to eat, we rode back around the Island counter-clockwise to investigate “the murder site” (for those of you who don’t have a Facebook account, you can read about it here and see photos here and here). Creepy.

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Saturday night was a bar crawl ๐Ÿ™‚ I normally don’t drink much anyway, but as readers of my blog already know, alcohol increases the risk of cancer, and since chemo dehydrates the hell out of you, I drank water instead (except for a sip of Tammy’s blue drink at one place and a sip of apple pucker {one of our go-to’s for geocaching weekends} at another). Luckily, with my head wear, the bartenders were awesome about signing my shirt anyway ๐Ÿ™‚ And we watched MSU beat Oregon on various bar TVs throughout the island.

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Sunday after mass, we decided to head up into the interior of the Island again. We didn’t have a lot of time since we needed to get back in time for the Ferry to get back to the mainland, but we tried to find what we could. We ended up getting a few more DNF’s and only found 2 geocaches. We gave up and headed back down to town for a late lunch and some quick shopping before the Ferry headed out. All in all, it was an awesome weekend. The first time in months that (other than my bald head) I felt relatively normal ๐Ÿ™‚

 

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I am definitely looking forward to recovering from this last chemo and feeling that way again.

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The smiley faces are the ones we logged. Still so many to find. Next time!

 

 

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It’s like the last snowstorm in March

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Having your last chemo treatment is like the last snowstorm in March. Since you know winter is almost over, it seems more manageable, even if it’s a messy, hard storm. I had my last treatment on Monday. It was surreal when the nurses hugged me and I told them “no offense,ย  but I hope to never see you guys again!” They responded that they’d be glad to see me in the future only if we weren’t at the Cancer Center. ๐Ÿ˜€

The first couple of days, I had the usual mild nausea that accompanies the slowing of my digestive system from the Taxol. The good news was no Neulasta shot the day after chemo! That saved me from the flu-like feeling and the sore, stiff neck, shoulders and back that I usually get from the shot. I woke Wednesday morning with numb fingers and thumbs- from the tips down to about halfway to the first interphalangeal joint of each digit. The knee and leg pain began that day as well. It’s been interesting how the side effects have been a little different with each treatment.

So, unlike what the doctor believed, the Neulasta injection was not the cause of my severe joint and bone pain. I realize I am a sample size of 1 (n=1) which means in a statistical test, the degrees of freedom = 0 (df = n-1), so this is not a statistically valid research sample. However, I believe I can state with at least some amount of certainty that the Taxol alone was the cause of my severe joint and bone pain – it was not the Neulasta, nor an interaction between the Taxol and Neulasta. It was simply the Taxol.

The pain is nearly gone now- still some random shooting pains in my leg bones- 6 days after the treatment. And I am still suffering from a bit of numbness- it has changed from numbness to more of the tingling and pain – the best I can explain it is that if you’ve ever played a guitar enough to get callouses on the tips of your fingers- it felt like that at first, but it included my thumbs and went further up my digits than that. The bottoms of my feet also went slightly numb. After a couple days the feeling started to slowly come back a little- but they are painful and tingling – shooting pains in my finger bones and toes. It’s jarring and very irritating and annoying.ย  The tingling can sometimes feel like how it feels when someone scrapes their fingernails on a chalkboard – it’s very uncomfortable.

A friend at work told me how she still suffered a little from it five years after her treatment ended. I had been feeling grateful that each time I’ve had slightly different effects, so that it didn’t seem to want to stick in any one place. I had thought maybe that would mean that mine wouldn’t be permanent. Now I’m thinking that since it’s my last treatment- this could be the side effect that sticks around and I certainly don’t want this numbness in my fingers and feet for the rest of my life. I feel off. I am a little wobbly when I walk, and my fingers are so bothersome that it is hard to do normal things, like type on a computer, sew, wash dishes, etc. (not that I stopped doing those things, but I am extremely irritated and clumsy when doing them). I am still hopeful though that, like with the other treatments, this side effect will also go away.

What I have found though, as with other treatments, that when the bone pain starts- it is helpful to keep moving. The more I sit still to rest, the worse the pain seems to be. So Tim and I took a bike ride one night and it hurt like hell to get going, but once we were riding for a bit, it eased up and really helped relieve the pain for a little while. And it felt good to be active and moving.

By Thursday though, I was in such pain that I decided to work from home on Friday (I had been going into the office all week since a lot of our management team was out for training and I wanted to be there in case there were any issues). It helped a lot to not have the commute and to not have to walk around the office. The pain has been easing up since then and I am walking almost normally now.

As I drove the kids into karate Friday night though, I cried a little. Self pity. My fingertips are just so bothersome, and I was tired and was feeling some tummy issues again. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ At the end of winter- sometimes you are just so worn out and ground down that even the last snowstorm of the season is too much to bear with a smile. We spent the evening with some dear friends while the kids had movie night at karate, and that cheered me up tremendously. No time to feel sorry for myself- that surgery thing that I’ve been avoiding thinking about will be coming up next. I’ve gotta get prepared for that.

Tonight, I took a 2 mile bike ride with Chris and Rea. I may be slow, but it felt good to be moving in the beautiful Fall weather.

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There is no magic reason

There is no magic reason why some people get cancer and some don’t. Why did I get cancer? People ask all kinds of things – do you smoke, drink, did you breastfeed, did you take hormone pills? They are looking for why I got it, so they can set their own mind at ease. I know, because I used to be that way too. That person got an aneurism because they have a stressful job and don’t eat carrots. Shew, it probably won’t happen to me then.

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My fortune cookie fromย a few weeks ago. Best one I’ve ever gotten!

Sure, there are contributing factors – based on various research, they think the following things contribute to the chance you’ll get breast cancer:

  • not having children, orย  having them later in life (after 30), or having fewer children
  • not breastfeeding (this is only a slight risk)
  • using birth control or hormone replacement (there is actually more to this one, I’ll explain in a minute)
  • genetic predisposition (gene mutations – there are specific genetic markers they can test for)
  • family history of breast or other cancers (in close blood relatives)
  • as you get older your risk increases (as if getting old doesn’t suck enough!)
  • starting your period at an early age or going through late menopause (like before 12 and later than 55)
  • having breast tissue that is dense or has other benign (noncancerous) changes to it (fibroadenomas, cysts, etc.)
  • drinking alcohol
  • being overweight (especially after menopause) (being overweight at any age is actually a risk for many cancers, not just breast)

(Note there are many other things that have been studied that have been shown NOT to be a risk of breast cancer. You’ve probably heard many of them – bras, breast implants {except for one rare lymphoma type}, chemicals (plastics, pesticides, anti-perspirants, makeup, etc), abortions. None of these are risk factors.)

So for me – how do my risk factors add up?

  • NO – I had my first child at 29 and have 5 children total
  • mostly NO – I breastfed most of my kids at least for a while
  • YES – I used hormonal pills
  • NO – I was tested and do not have either BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • ONE – one aunt had breast cancer years ago, and has been cancer-free for about 30 years
  • NO –ย  they told me (regardless of how I feel ๐Ÿ™‚ ) that at 48 I am NOT old yet. Risk starts at >50 and becomes more significant as you age beyond that.
  • NO
  • NO
  • RARELY
  • Well, YEAH, but I’m not past menopause yet (or at least I wasn’t before Chemo- now I am likely having Chemo-induced menopause)

So, for those of you counting- I have very few of the risk factors. So, sorry to say – it might happen to you. And it might not. Again, there is no magic reason why I got it and you didn’t.

So, back to the risk factors. A little explanation of why the above things are listed. They have studied these factors enough to suspect that the linkage between number of pregnancies, breastfeeding, age of menarche (start of menstruation) or age of menopause (stopping of menstruation), and hormonal birth control or replacement meds – and breast cancer – all seem to come down to how long your body is exposed to female hormones.

Early menarche or late menopause lengthens the amount of time you’re exposed. A greater number of pregnancies, the earlier you start having babies, and the longer you breastfeed – reduces the number of periods you will have, thus decreasing the amount of female hormones your body will be exposed to. In addition, surprising to many people, both drinking alcohol and being overweight increases the amount of estrogen in your body (fat can produce estrogen, thus why overweight children tend to start menstruation at a younger age).

If you think about it, they are all really linked to female hormones and it makes sense. What “they” (that anonymous “they” again ๐Ÿ™‚ ) don’t know is why estrogen/progesterone (the female hormones I am talking about) might cause cancer. What’s funny (odd, not haha) is that using hormonal birth control actually reduces your risk of getting ovarian cancer, but prolonged use is a risk for breast cancer. What is good is that if you stop using the hormone pills (either birth control or replacement therapy), your risk eventually (after about 3 years) decreases back to that of someone who never took them. What they do believe is that estrogen alone actually decreases the risk of cancer, but estrogen with progesterone increases it. {And here my scientific self asks – then why does alcohol and being overweight not decrease the risk of cancer, if they only increase the estrogen level in the body? Maybe they also have a concurrent effect on progesterone levels? Who knows!)

“They” also say that although they haven’t fully proven that breast cancer is caused (remember correlation is not cause and effect – your little stats lesson for the day ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) by estrogen and progesterone, if you have breast cancer that is estrogen receptor or progesterone receptor positive (denoted as ER+ or PR+), it DEFINITELY helps your cancer grow much faster by binding to the receptors on the cancer cells and “feeding” them.

But enough of the science…

Back to the magic reasons why I got cancer and you didn’t. There are none.ย It’s the same for why some people have their cancer recur after it was “cured” the first time and some don’t. ย Why when it recurs sometimes it’s “curable” again and sometimes it is Stage IV. There is no way to know why.

One thing I can tell you for sure – people like me who are fighting cancer do not want to hear about your cousin’s neighbor who found out they had cancer and then died three months later. I also don’t want to hear about your co-worker’s sister who went through all the chemo and surgery and radiation only to have the cancer come back within a year and is now having to fight it all over again. I don’t want to hear anymore of those stories.

I want to hear about your grandma who lived to be 98 after surviving breast cancer for 40 years – tell me those stories, please! I believe there is great power in positivity.

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Almost time for my annual geocaching trip

I had my 7th chemo last Thursday. I am almost over the joint and bone pain for this round (don’t tell Tim ๐Ÿ˜‰ He’s still giving foot and leg rubs http://youtu.be/nUKSrW1XwJk).

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One more treatment to go.ย It’s hard to believe. Back in May when they told me I had 16 weeks of chemo treatments ahead of me, it seemed to stretch out endlessly. Especially after the first couple of treatments when I found out what it was like. The sickness, the weakness, the pain and misery. I felt like the end of treatments would never come. Now here I am facing only one more.

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So, Fall has come and my annual geocaching trip with friends is almost here. Early in the summer I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go, but now with the Taxol- I am not as weak and not nauseous, so bring it on! Normally we go to Higgins Lake, but this year was the special year we decided we’d go to Mackinac Island. There was no way I wanted to miss out on that. I did make my friends promise that if I am too tired to hike all day that they’d go out without me while I rested- and not feel guilty about leaving me at the hotel.

Every dot represents a geocache - Mackinac Island has a TON!

Every dot represents a geocache – Mackinac Island has a TON!

What’s interesting to me was when I told the doctor I was going on this trip and needed to schedule my last chemo for the day after I get back, her response was – you don’t need the Neulasta shot for your last treatment so you could still do your treatment the day before you go.

I know she’s a cancer expert, but she only knows about chemo from what she has learned as a doctor. She has never experienced it in her own body. If she had, she would know that there is no way I could go on a trip, let alone enjoy myself the day after chemo. My knees and hips and the bottom of my feet are so incredibly painful for about 5-6 days that I have a hard time even walking carefully. It’s all I can do ย sometimes not to cry out from the pain spasms. And there’s still some stomach upset even though it is much milder than the earlier chemo meds. Then the random numbness in my feet, thigh and hands/arms on top of that ๐Ÿ˜ฆ No way I could go hiking around!

And even though I told her about my pain, she and the other professionals I see are all convinced it is just the Neulasta injection the day after the chemo treatment that is causing me the pain, not the Taxol itself. Well I had the Neulasta with the first chemo meds, and only had mild hip pain (plus the all over beat-up flu feeling). The joint and bone pain I get with the Taxol is about 100-fold more painful. They don’t believe me – because Taxol is only supposed to cause mild joint pain. Well, ย I suppose it’s possible that the combination of Neulasta and Taxol are the problem, but we will find that out for sure after my last Taxol since I won’t need the injection that time. Pretty sure I’m right though ๐Ÿ˜‰

One nurse there, Terese (Therese?), always asks about my symptoms and listens intently. She said that everyone is different and she always likes to know what her patients are going through – not only so she can better understand and help comfort them, but also so she can help other patients to understand what they might be facing as well. (She reads my blog sometimes- so I hope she smiles when she reads this- to know that I appreciate how much she cares about her patients ๐Ÿ™‚ )

So, my doctor obviously knows way more than I do about cancer and how to treat it, but I am definitely more knowledgeable about how it feels to fight cancer.

So, geocaching? For those of you who aren’t familiar with it: the official website is geocaching.com, but this guy gives a great explanation:
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And I love this t-shirt which explains it as simply as possible ๐Ÿ˜€

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