Another Transition/ Retirement

https://www.higheredjobs.com/HigherEdCareers/interviews.cfm?ID=709If I had been teaching through the 2017-18 school year, today would have been my last day of work before summer. I wasn’t teaching though, so it is just another day. Or is it?

Yesterday I attended the annual staff luncheon at the school. We order in mostly unhealthy foods and a cake. After the lunch, we all move down to the theatre for some presentations like skits and songs in honour of the retirees, gifts, and goodbyes for those who don’t know yet if they will be teaching next year due to short-term contracts or who are moving to a new teaching position. Yesterday was the same as always, but this year I was one of the people retiring.

My retirement is a little different than the others because it was my Salary Continuation company who decided I was retiring. When it became clear that I would not be returning to work, they required that I put in for the disability form of the teachers’ pension plan. Guess what that meant! Yes, indeed, forms to fill in, doctor’s records to gather, and then waiting for someone somewhere to decide my fate. Seven days ago I got a letter saying I was approved, the next day I got a call from the district to come for forms. We filled the forms out in the office and…poof…I was a retiree!

My retiring colleagues, if they chose to let folks know ahead, have had a few months of celebrations at various levels. They also have been clearing out their classrooms, which I did last year. It was nice to visit yesterday with my colleagues, some of whom I have known for up to 28 years. It was fun to listen to songs and skits about some of my fellow retirees! It was amazing to participate in the receiving line and get handshakes or hugs from everyone and to hear congratulations.

So is this really a transition for me? After all, I have been at home/not working for most of two school years. In some ways, it is no transition. September without meeting and learning names of up to 120 new students, done that! Sleeping in most days until I want to get up, done that! Able to travel when I want and am able, done that! But it does feel a little different today. I know that when I meet someone I can say that I am a retired teacher, rather than telling them that it is complicated.

None of us know when we will die, though with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis it is likely sooner rather than later. We can all celebrate each milestone we reach and decide how they will refocus our view of life. I have many good memories of all those years of teaching which are easier to think about with things settled.  My focus is fully ahead, what milestone will be next?

Hospital Mornings

Hi all, I thought I would take you with me on my adventures today.

8:15 I drove my daughter to work downtown.

8:35 I drove to the hospital. I always drive past the main doors so that I can see the parking lot and scope out available spots. Last week my back was hurting so much that I didn’t know if I would be able to reach out the window to push the button and get the ticket. Thanks to physio, this was not an issue today.

8:40 I checked in to oncology on the third floor. Today we were asked to do a survey. Some of the questions were a bit odd, as on most surveys.

8:45 A nurse called me and we went into the treatment room. There weren’t many people around yet so I had my choice of chairs.

The nurse checked my birthdate and my arm band and then cleaned the skin around my port. She accessed the port (put a needle in) and took three vials of blood for testing. I was doing the survey and then saw something pink and thought it was my blood…a little shocked I asked and then realized that it was the colour coded band at the top of the vial.

When that was done, I was all set to leave but had to have my weight done. Rah! They track it in kilos but that doesn’t work for me. I am up 7 pounds since last month! It is time to do something about that!

9:00 I checked in on the second floor for my physio appointment. My physiotherapist is great. She was happy to see my back better and laughed when I said that now my left shoulder blade was aching.

She did this cool (pardon the pun) light massage with an ice cube on a stick. It felt great! After it was all cooled she did a little manipulation to get the muscles released. Lastly, I had a lovely time with heat on my neck.

9:40 Back in oncology on the third floor, I settled in to wait for my 10:40 appointment with my medical oncologist. One of the volunteers who had asked if I wanted tea when I arrived for blood work asked again so I had a lovely cup of tea.

Time to play some Pokemon…

10:40 I was called by the LPN who works with the oncologist. She had someone training with her. We went into an examination room and I had vitals done. Tom joined us after having dropped a daughter at the airport.

We went through the sheet of checks re side effects etc. After that she asked me to change into a gown. I asked if it should open in the front or the back and was surprised to hear that they had new female-friendly gowns that actually cross over to cover the chest. I guess it was quite a struggle to get them and it was well worth it!

The doctor and a medical student came in with my chart. She started to talk and then was distracted by my Dr Who/Starry Night sneakers. “We have the results–I love those shoes–I’m so sorry!” She was embarrassed, but I thought it was great!

So, what was the news? My recent bone scan showed no new spots and some improvement in the worst new area and the original met in my rib. So the drugs are indeed working. Yay! I will continue on the lower dose of Ibrance, and regular dose of Letrozole. Blood tests every 4 weeks and oncologist appointments every 3 months along with Zometa infusions.

11:15 The nurse who did my blood work came to get me for my Zometa infusion. All the chairs in the treatment room were full so we got to use a private room with a choice of a nice recliner or a bed and a moderately comfy chair for Tom. They used the line from earlier and soon I was getting saline drip. A couple minutes later the treatment began.

Just as that was happening, one of the admin assistants came in with my appointments for the next three months. They are so organized!

Back to Pokemon for a bit…

11:30 The infusion was finished and I was on saline flush. The volunteer came by with sandwiches and cookies. I took an egg salad on whole wheat and a pack of Social Teas. I split the sandwich with Tom. Then the nurse came in and unhooked me and we were off.

11:45 On the way out, we made the ‘manditory’ stop in the Gift Shop. There were some cute tops and purses as well as other cool things as usual. I managed to get away before spending money!

12:00 I was pulling out of the parking lot, showing my pass to security, and on my way home.

Tell Me Face-to-Face!

bitmoji767993325In case you aren’t following along, I had recently received results from tests and from the tumor board meeting over the phone from a receptionist and was totally confused. I didn’t feel I understood anything from the news as it didn’t mesh with anything I had heard recently. This is not how patients should ever hear information about their health or plans!

Prior to the tests I was told I would have a meeting with the surgeon, who ordered the tests, after the tumor board meeting. That is what I expected and then to just hear over-the-phone basics was a shock! The next I was told to expect was a call from the radiation oncologist’s office to book an appointment. Since I had previously been old there would not be any radiation until far later in my journey, I was a bit freaked out! They called to give me an appointment for yesterday, which they later changed to next week.

On Wednesday I had my appointment with the medical oncologist which had been booked the day I finished chemo two months ago. It was originally to get started on hormone treatment, Tamoxifen. Tom and I went in with no idea what to expect and with memories of our first appointment with her when we were told that I had stage 4 cancer and would not be treated for a cure, but just to manage the cancer.

Without boring you with tons of details, in this face-to-face meeting she was able to explain the results, the plan and the rational in about ten minutes and we left much relieved! The board decided that since the chemo went so well they would switch gears a bit and continue aggressive treatment. So now I’m back to the mastectomy and chemo plan with an additional radiation treatment in Halifax which will directly attack the spot on my rib. When all that is done I will then start hormone treatment with a new drug which has recently been approved. The procedures may be scary, but it is action and that feels good.

So much stress and fear would have been totally avoided if the receptionist told me nothing and just set up an appointment like I was expecting when I called.

Twas the night before chemo…

Twas the night before chemo and all through the housexdelayed-sleep-phase-syndrome-cartoon-jpg-pagespeed-ic-fcwtrbsdeg

not all creatures were sleeping, not just me and my spouse.

The clock at my bedside read quarter to four

and we needed to sleep those three hours more.

I will spare you any more bad parody of Clement Moore’s poem for now! As I write this it is actually the day after chemo, my second treatment, but I had the first line of this going through my head all day on the 27th. It felt a bit surreal to me because, even though only 3 weeks, it felt like forever since the first treatment. So much has happened, most all of it good. I had the procedure to implant the power port last week, and munch of my hair is gone from my head, but other than that things are good. I’ve had visits and dinners with family, my birthday and Christmas and visits with my colleagues at the school. 

I did get those three hours more sleep before getting up for a shower and heading off to the hospital with my husband for company and support. My first stop was the blood lab to get a test to see that my blood and platelet count was enough to have the treatment. Then we went for breakfast at the cafeteria, where I got a great bowl of oatmeal without having to worry about cleaning my pot afterwards. I may also have stolen a couple slices of Tom’s bacon.

Next was my oncologist appointment at which we found out that the measurement was down from 17×15 to 13×11! The chemo is indeed doing what it is supposed to be doing. My doctor was happy with this, as were we, and all was well for treatment number two of six. We went home for a bit, with a side stop at the gift shop to buy a cute new purse I had seen last week, since the chemo wasn’t for almost two hours. 

The chemo infusion went smoothly and it was awesome to not have vein hunting involved, especially as at about the same time two men across from me had warm blankets wrapped on both arms and then went through numerous attempts to get a vein. They had gauze pads all over their arms before they finally got hooked up! Yeek! All my nurse had to do was clean the skin over the port and stick in a bent type of needle and cover it up and we were off to the races. Complete with waiting for the drugs to be mixed, we were done in two hours and headed home.

 

“Woohoo Chemo Starting!” and other things I never thought I’d say.

bitmoji-377167672The actual news from yesterday’s appointments at the hospital is that I am starting my chemo next Wednesday. Woohoo!

No really, I’m pretty excited that I am finally going to be doing something to counter this assault on my body! I remember when I was first diagnosed and told that chemo wouldn’t be part of it, I was so thankful. I didn’t really like the idea of poisoning myself on purpose or of the side effects making me actually feel ill, which so far I have not. I remember my dad talking about chemo in the early days…a day of poison and then they give you an antidote so you don’t actually die. Hmmm.

Things have changed a lot and they have learned so much more about the disease and treatments! It was actually two years ago today that I watched my dad walk (seemingly totally healthy) into the operating room to have a colonoscopy. When he came to in his room he joked that he wouldn’t be driving anywhere that day! The surgery went well, but in the end he never did drive again. In his eighties, he was not strong enough to recover and died a couple days before Christmas.

OK, so back to me 😉 Other things I didn’t think I would say started with, “I have cancer.” but the ship sailed on that a couple months ago. Since then I have said that a lot, as well as; “I had a CT scan.” “I’m going for a bone scan.” “This MRI was much nicer than the last one.” “That biopsy was easier.” It also includes requesting a central line for treatments and whatever else may need to be given or taken from my veins. I am pretty practical and it makes sense to me, but it is a bit eerie to think about.

Of course there are the ‘bright side comments’ along the way like; “Ooh, I’ve always wanted to be a VIP!” “At least I won’t have to shave my legs for months!” “I get a great rate on hospital parking!” etc.