I Survived Cancer and Then Donated My Hair

About a year ago last summer, I decided to take a last-minute, cross-country road trip with one-year-old twins to see family prior to moving to South Korea. One morning I woke up in my childhood bedroom in Lafayette, Louisiana and decided it was the day I wanted to fulfill a long-term goal I had held since I shaved my head during chemo almost exactly three years prior: I donated my hair. I called around to my friends and asked for a salon recommendation since it had been several years since I lived in Lafayette. A few people recommended Morgan at Spa Mizan, and she miraculously had a cancellation and could take me that day. What I didn’t know is that she was also a young adult survivor of cervical cancer, and was very pumped to help me achieve this dream. She took her role very seriously, and carefully read through the hair donation requirements before measuring out my hair. She ultimately decided to maximize the length of my hair donation by dividing my thick locks into two pig tails. Fortunately, my childhood best friend and occasional guest blogger, Allison, came with me to document the event and you can see the results here. The three of us had all been affected by cancer very directly in different ways, and I was really honored to be able to share this experience with them.

Although I chose the day spontaneously, I took the decision to donate my hair very seriously. One of the first things I did was choose an organization to donate my hair through. A lot of people have heard of the organization, Locks of Love, which donates hair systems to children with long-term hair loss, primarily benefiting children with alopecia areata. However, several organizations are out there that accept hair donations. A great list is available here. All are great organizations, so if you are interested in donating your hair, my advice would be to research their missions and requirements to decide which one fits your needs best.

I ultimately decided to donate through Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program for a few reasons. The main reason is because they work with American Cancer Society specifically to provide free wigs to women with cancer. Many of my friends and their loved ones had received hair replacements through this program. I really felt called to support them since I had witnessed the benefit of their program firsthand, and I really wanted my donation to benefit a cancer fighter. My other reason for supporting the program was much more practical. The Beautiful Lengths program only requires an 8-inch pony tail, while most other hair donation charities require 10 or 12 inch pony tails for donation. Since I am a pixie girl at heart and my children love to tug at my hair, I knew my patience for growing out my hair was going to be minimal – so planned accordingly. To my surprise, I ended up with two 10-inch pig tails to donate, but ultimately decided to donate through Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program because of their service to the cancer community.

Once you choose the program you want to donate through, it is important that you follow their recommendations for taking care of your hair while you grow it out. According to a rather outdated New York Times article, as much as 80 percent of hair donations to Locks of Love in 2007 were unusable because people didn’t follow their requirements. If you really want your hair donation to go toward someone in need, it requires a long-term commitment. You generally have to avoid coloring your hair during the time it takes to grow it out (in my case 2.5 years) and maintain it with regular trims and conditioning. Pantene provides a great resource on how to prepare your hair for donation here. If you are interested in hair donation, please do your research and make sure you are willing to make that commitment. If you aren’t able to participate because your hair is color-treated or for another reason, there are many ways you can participate, such as making a monetary donation, or volunteering to create awareness for the program by recruiting participating salons and/or hosting hair donation events.

I really loved growing out my hair and felt elated by returning to my pre-cancer, pixie look. In the process I hope I was able to create some awareness, both for hair donation and adolescent and young adult cancer issues. I hope this blog post will provide some great resources for anyone considering hair donation in the future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lassie Love

To say I was involved in college, doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface. I held leadership positions in at least four student organizations (that I can think of), memberships in several others, wrote for the student newspaper for awhile, worked as a resident assistant for three years and held a variety of internships. I also, of course, managed to make time for tailgating and football on Saturdays in the fall, and did my fair share of partying. Though there was definitely room for improvement in my GPA, I was still accepted into the #1 advertising school in the country (which I chose not to go to for some reason) and also received assistantships/scholarships to several other graduate programs. You’re probably thinking, “Man, this chick is really bragging on herself.” However, I have a point and I’m about to get to it.

Though this is really a topic for another blog post, my advice to anyone about to start college is to 1) live on campus at least a year, and 2) get involved with student organizations. Not only are these tips statistically proven to increase graduation rates and GPA, but they also provide students with the opportunity to learn essential professional and relationship building/managing skills that will be used the rest of their lives. I can also trace back roughly 2/3 of my relationships and extended network back to these two tips.

I spoke a lot about the friendships I made through the Manship School of Mass Communication in an interview a few months back. However, before we get to today’s guest blog post, I really need to spotlight one of the student organizations I was in. I pledged the Army Scotch Guard, a non-greek sisterhood and service organization, my first semester at LSU. I can’t even begin to cover the importance of which my experiences with Scotch Guard have played in my life. Scotch Guard was founded by a Scottish man, which explains why our mascot was the Scottish terrier, we wore plaid uniforms and we called ourselves “lassies.” I became obsessed with all-things Scotty-related and eventually got my adorable fur-baby, Frasier, as a consequence.

The photo below was taken the day Rene & I picked Frasier up from the breeder in Oklahoma, Thanksgiving Weekend 2010. Note the Scotch Guard sweatshirt I’m wearing.

puppy frasier 2

Rene & I were also married by a Scotch Guard alumna as well. Several of my best friends are people I met through Scotch Guard (I’m even serving as a bridesmaid in one’s wedding in March.) Since Scotch Guard is affiliated with the ROTC, many Scotch Guard lassies are also either in the military or are military spouses, so I often find myself turning to them for military-related support and advice. Another lassie, Britni, coincidentally moved to Austin around the same time as me and was a tremendous support throughout my cancer journey. She even walked on my Light the Night team in November.

I can really spend all day talking about how the relationships I forged through Scotch Guard have benefited my life. However, the point is that relationships are important and you never know what role people will play in your life when you first meet them. My advice to other cancer fighters/survivors is not to be afraid to reach out to those old friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, or anyone else you think might be able to help you… no matter how long its been since you last spoke or saw each other (or even if you have never met). Support is everything. And they will most likely be happy to help.

Which brings me to another fellow lassie– Megan. Megan and I met in 2005 when I first joined Scotch Guard. She was a few years ahead of me, so we didn’t get to know each other extremely well before she graduated. However, one thing I always remembered was that she was a passionate volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I had a vague recollection that she may have been some type of cancer survivor, but I honestly was foggy on the details. When I found out I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in May, I immediately thought of Megan. Luckily, we had remained Facebook friends in the six years or so since we had last seen each other (gotta love social media!) So I sent her a Facebook message that went sort of like this, “Hi Megan, I know I haven’t seen you in many years, but I think you might have had some sort of blood cancer (maybe?) and I just found out I have Hodgkin’s. Please help! P.S. Congrats on the marriage! Lassie Love!”

It turned out that Megan had actually also been diagnosed with Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma about 10 years before at age 17. From that very first Facebook message, Megan gave me amazing information and advice. Among many many things, she gave me some insight on what to expect from the ABVD chemotherapy we both had (constipation anyone?) and also referred me to a great program with the American Cancer Society called Look Good/Feel Better. One of Megan’s sage pieces of wisdom is very fitting for this blog entry:

“It’s so so so important to have as many resources in your back pocket as you can when you go through something like this. Take hold of all of the supportive people in your life and make sure you are still doing some things that bring you a little joy each day.”

She’s still playing an amazing role in my life today, and even arranged an opportunity for me to speak at the New Orleans’ LLS chapter’s Fertility Forum for cancer patients & medical professionals in March.

Fertility Forum Save the Date 2013

Megan is now a 27-year-old clinical psychologist and very graciously agreed to do this guest blog post for me. Hopefully others will benefit from her experience like I did!

Q&A With Dr. Megan:

Megan Armstrong

Please give me a timeline of when you started suspecting something was wrong, receiving the diagnosis and treatment.
I started to suspect that something was wrong around Christmas-time in 2002. I just felt “weird.” I had a fever and a dizzy spell that came without explanation. Not too long after that, I started to notice that there was a lump on my neck. It wasn’t very large and really could have been mistaken for swollen lymph nodes due to an infection. First step was to see my primary care doc. I believe I tried two rounds of antibiotics to get rid of the “infection.” That didn’t work so I was sent to an ENT. He wanted to just wait, so we watched and waited for quite a while. I honestly can’t remember how long it was, but I do know that looking back, my parents were infuriated that he wasn’t aggressive enough. I eventually saw another ENT (same hospital) and had a needle biopsy in early March. We received a call that the results were “suspicious,” so I was scheduled for surgery.  I underwent surgical biopsy of the lymph node and by that time, it had grown in size, and was noticeably larger. I was diagnosed a few days later.
What were your initial feelings/reactions to receiving the diagnosis?
Honestly, when my family and I got the call that it was cancer, I really think we felt relieved. It was, of course, a somber moment. I remember my mom answering the phone, me running around the corner to watch her expression, and her telling me the answer just by the look on her face. I never thought I could feel devastated and relieved at the same time, but it’s possible. When I say relieved, it was a feeling that, “FINALLY, we know what it is!” It had been almost THREE months of waiting. More than anyone, 17 year olds really hate waiting because we’re all about immediate gratification! Now that we knew what it was, we could figure out a plan of attack. I became the most outwardly upset at my first visit with the oncologist. The chemo process sounded so scary, though I was very intrigued to hear that I could EAT while getting chemo! The worst part was hearing that I would indeed lose my hair. Hands. down. the. worst. part. I knew that it would likely happen, but having it confirmed was awful. I cried and cried. I cried so much that the nurses let me use the internal staff elevators to go throughout the hospital for my various tests so that I wouldn’t have to see anyone. For their kindness and patience, I am so thankful!
Has being a cancer survivor guided your life choices in any way? If so, how?
100% yes. You know, I’m a fortunate person because I’ve always been bright and motivated. I knew that one day I would do good things, but now I feel that I do and will continue to do GREAT things. Leaving high school, my intention was to study nursing at LSU. After a semester, I realized it wasn’t what I really wanted, so I had to do some soul-searching. I thought long and hard about what I really loved and what I’d be good at. I started to remember how much I loved my Psychology class in high school and it went from there. Throughout graduate school and beyond, I made the decision to become a psychologist who provides care to cancer patients and their loved ones. It has been an amazing and incredibly fulfilling. To be completely candid, sometimes I feel like I endured cancer so that I could serve a purpose on this earth – to improve the lives of those who are suffering from similar illnesses. That may not be completely true, but it’s at least my way of thinking about it. Perception is everything. 🙂
Do you assist oncology fighters/survivors in your profession? How so?
Currently, I do not in my paid profession. I had the unique opportunity to take a research position working with patients who have HIV/AIDS. I believe that while there are some differences between the diseases, there are some significant similarities. I absolutely love what I’m doing and I’m happy to have expanded my practice to other chronic illness groups. I do volunteer quite a bit with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so I am able to maintain a presence in the cancer community in that way.
What type of challenges do you think are unique to young adult cancer survivors?
I think living with cancer at a young age is unique because it occurs at such a pivotal developmental time point. At times, young adults fall into an unfortunate gap. On one hand, you are no longer a child, and while you get support from your parents, you don’t want to rely too much on them because you are at the stage of wanting to differentiate yourself and become autonomous. On the other hand, you don’t feel completely like an adult either. You’re just at the point of trying to figure out who you are. Cancer gets in the way of that process. Ultimately, that can be a good thing, but in the moment, it is NOT pleasant!
What is your biggest piece of advice to young adults that are first diagnosed, in treatment, and in recovery? (You can separate these out if you need to!)
The first thing I’d say to young adults at first diagnosis is – It CAN be done. I was treated in a hospital for adults and was by far the youngest patient there. I never saw ANY examples of young patients and didn’t know of any young adult survivors. For those who may have a similar experience, I want them to know that you CAN get through this. Throughout this process, be mindful. When I say be mindful, pay attention – make the choice to pay attention to the small pieces of light and goodness that are happening. At times, it won’t feel like much is good. I look back and realize how many people sent cards/flowers or said prayers. I was/am so loved. Much like everyone who is caught up in the day to day, I have to remind myself to be mindful of those things. Oftentimes, when we are thrust into a difficult situation, it’s easy to only focus on what’s going wrong. I am in no way saying that cancer is great and fun – NO WAY!! I just want to point out that there is potential for a great personal growth. Having cancer as a young adult means you are an ordinary person faced with extraordinary circumstances – just try your best. You will never be perfect at coping with it, so accept that.
Please describe any challenge you might still have 9-10 years out of treatment.
My answer for this would be the same as it is for 20, 30, 50, 70 years out of treatment. I’ve learned that if you are diagnosed with cancer, cancer will forever be a part of your life.  Some days I think about my cancer experience and some days, I don’t. I tend to think about it more if I have an follow up appointment approaching soon. I struggled quite a bit the first 5 years out because I was hyper-vigilant about any little body ache/pain I felt. If this is you, you’re not alone! I can say that it gets better over time, but it will never go completely away. I’ve accepted that. The farther you get away from it, the easier it becomes. Overall, I’ve embraced that I’m a cancer survivor and I”m proud of it!!!!

Inspirational Individuals on the Ides (ish) of November

So I had this whole idea for a regular monthly blog topic called Inspirational Individuals on the Ides (I^3). I totally thought the 15th was the “ides” of every month and apparently that’s not quite the case. You can find a neat little history lesson on how the ides of months are determined here. (And yes, I do know I sound like a dork. And no, I don’t care.)

I was being interviewed for the Manship School of Mass Communication’s (my alma mater) website a few days ago and one of the questions was “why did you decide to start the blog.” Part of it was to keep my friends & family in others state updated on what was happening regarding my cancer diagnosis. But I had already established a private blog that I could use for that purpose. I really just had this inner drive to document what was happening to me because I know as someone waiting to be (or newly) diagnosed, I was scoring the internet for any information of what other people in my situation had been through. For example, I wanted to make sure that any other army spouses out there trying to get TRICARE to pay for a wig could learn from my experience and avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered. For another, I really had no idea what to expect from radiation. No one told me I was going to have to be tattooed ahead of time, or that I’d have to wear a mask and stay absolutely stationary for long periods of time. I knew all of that because of the blogosphere and other people’s experiences, so I was prepared, but those issues easily could have thrown me through a loop. Knowing how much I benefitted from blogs in the days leading up to my diagnosis, made the decision to blog very natural.

I think another major influence is the fact that I have grown up and come of age in a time when so many inspiring individuals have bravely discussed their illnesses or disabilities very publicly in order to raise awareness and research funds, and to empower and educate others. I’ve already talked about quite of few of these individuals: Robin Roberts, Scott Hamilton, Lance Armstrong, Michael Douglas, Shannon Miller, etc. I’m sure I’ll spotlight quite a few of these characters and other well-known people in the future. But this month I want to take a few minutes to spotlight someone who did not grow up in a time when people were very vocal about their illnesses. When people couldn’t find information through a Google search. Survivorship issues didn’t really exist because most people didn’t survive. She was not wealthy or famous. In fact, her real name wasn’t even known for many years. She was instead referred to by the first two letters of her first and last name.

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November’s Inspirational Individual on the Ides is Henrietta Lacks. I first heard about Henrietta Lacks at the September meeting of BAG (Books are Glorious) Ladies, my monthly book club. We were trying to decide what books to read in the upcoming months and someone suggested “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Sloot for November. As she was explaining the book to me I was immediately hooked.

Henrietta Lacks was a 30 year old African American woman and mother of five who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. She received medical care at a free clinic at Johns Hopkins. While she was unconscious for a procedure, they took two samples of her cervix, from both the healthy and affected areas. A physician at Johns Hopkins, George Otto Gey, used samples from the people that were brought into the free clinic regularly for medical research. It was not legally necessary at that time to ask living patients for their consent for these procedures, and it is unknown whether Henrietta ever knew the samples were taken. What is known, is that Henrietta forever changed the medical community.

Although Henrietta died from her cancer a mere eight months after this procedure, many of her cervical cancer cells are still alive today in the form of HeLa, the first ever line of immortal human cells. Since then, her cells have helped cure polio, create new cancer treatments, determine the number of human chromosomes, and countless other medical advancements. They even went into space to test the effects of zero gravity on human cells before any human made the journey. Before HeLa, scientists had no way to safely test human tissue. Her contribution to medicine and science is truly invaluable. And yet she lived in a time when African Americans were segregated in hospitals. When she had only one hospital to go to period, because it was the only one that served African Americans in her area. When even blood donations were segregated by race. Her surviving family never received any financial compensation for HeLa from the medical community. They couldn’t even afford the medical advancements the HeLa cell’s generated.

Just recently, Rebecca Skloot author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has set up The Henrietta Lacks Foundation to help Henrietta’s descendants and others who have made contributions to medical research without financial gain of their own.

Henrietta, I want to say “thank you!” Thank you so much for your contribution to science. I have personally benefitted from it tremendously. Your cells helped develop and improve effective chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments which saved my life. They also helped develop invitro fertilization, which has created four embryos that might one day be my children. Thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can’t imagine how scary things were for you. I’m so sorry that you were not fortunate enough to live in 2012 and benefit from the resources and research that I do because of you and others like you. I truly owe you my life.

You have given so many people the happy ending you so rightfully deserved.

25 Again

So its somehow been more than a month since I last posted! I had a pretty long break (about six weeks) between chemo and radiation. I could feel myself becoming more and more energetic and feeling like a normal 25-year-old again. Some of the things I was able to partake in during the break in treatment were:

1) Shaving with a normal razor!

I’d been using a special razor to shave my legs since chemo puts you at a high risk for infection, failure to clot properly, etc. Despite the fact I was losing hair everywhere else, my knees were starting to look like twin cacti and it was driving. me. crazy. Luckily, I’m back to using the faithful Venus razor. Unfortunately, I now have several spots I can’t shave due to a ridiculous rash brought on by chemo, but alas, at least the knees are under control now.

2) Eating!

Not only do I feel like eating more since I’m not feeling nauseous, but I’m also able to eat a larger variety of food! As I’m sure you remember from my early chemo entries, I wasn’t allow to eat fresh or raw foods and I had to sacrifice some of my favorite foods. After I got the green light from my doc to eat fresh foods again, the first place Rene and I went to was Taco Bell.

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Totally sexy, I know 😉

Taco Bell also happens to sponsor the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, we made sure to donate while we were there.

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We also had a sushi dinner with a few proud Team Laura representative the Friday after. It was probably the most satisfying meal of my life.

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3) Drinking and being social

Although there wasn’t really a rule against drinking during chemo, it wasn’t something I often felt like doing. I also figured with the large amounts of drugs in my system, it was probably wise to stay away from it. So with the exception of a rare glass of wine, I pretty much abstained from alcohol throughout chemo. Luckily the end of chemo coincided with the beginning of football season, so we’ve enjoyed throwing a few back at the LSU & SEC Alumni- Austin events.

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Rene, me, and my sister Theresa at the SEC Picnic in August

My friend Britni invited me to an Austin Beerworks brewery tour last week and I was actually able to go and partake in the festivities!

One of the silos at the Austin Beerworks Brewery.

Some other fancy beer making aperati.

4) Travel!

Although I still haven’t planned any huge trips (and won’t be able to for awhile), I’m more able to travel on the weekends. Rene and I went to Big Bend for Labor Day and had an amazing time. I have to say, traveling west from Austin is so much more relaxing than traveling east, south and north. When I travel in the other three directions in Texas, I feel like I constantly run into traffic and/or people try to kill me in their Texas-sized trucks. Traveling west toward Big Bend, we had zero traffic issues and once we hit I-10 we could legally go 80 MPH, which was pretty awesome too. We camped while we were in the park and got to see some pretty amazing sites.

the open road to Big Bend

Old farm equipment from when ranchers bravely settled in Big Bend about a century ago.

“The Window” rock formation at sunset.

Enjoying a smooch.

Our surprisingly comfortable but tight sleeping quarters in the tent cot. I definitely recommend sleeping off the ground as we saw many a gigantic bug, including a tarantula at our campsite.

The Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon. Mexico is in the background.

In other travels, we also won last minute tickets to the LSU vs. Idaho game a few weeks back through Gameday for Heroes. This is a great organization that receives and organizes donations form ticket holders and universities, and then distributes them to military service members and veterans. If you happen to have tickets you don’t plan to use, definitely consider making a donation to this organization. It came at a perfect time because I was in a total funk that week and feeling very homesick. I had to cancel a planned Memorial Day weekend trip to Louisiana because of cancer junk and then a Labor Day weekend trip because of Hurricane Gustav, so my toes were just itching to be back on Louisiana soil. It was sadly only for a weekend since both Rene & I had work the Friday & Saturday before, so we only spent about 36 hours total in Louisiana, but it was well worth the trip.

Cosmically, two Louisiana National Guard units were honored during half-time at the game for their response to Hurricane Gustav. Because of this, many of Rene’s ROTC buddies were also in Baton Rouge for the game, including Rene’s good friend, former roommate and best man, Jean-Claude. Sadly my phone was on the fritz, so this is the only pic we got of him while we were there!

I also met Kelsey for the first time while I was there. We somehow avoided meeting one another in college despite having the same major, graduating the same year, and having 45 or so mutual friends on Facebook. We happened to get cancer around the same time and became friends and supporters via the internet. You can follow Kelsey’s progress in the fight against ovarian cancer at Oh my Poisoned Apple.

Cancer friends and survivors.

 

That’s about all I have time for right now, but in a few days (I promise) I will give y’all a thorough update about what life is like during radiation.

Chemo Eve

So I admit I was overly cocky about the Novarel (HCG) shot. If you recall, I had said I would give the HCG shot to myself at “exactly 8 p.m.” on Saturday night. That didn’t quite happen. I had it prepped and all ready to go. I watched the how-to video several times, I even invited my friend (Pastor) Amy over for moral support. And I just couldn’t go through with it. At one point I had gone so far as to get the needle up to my skin, but since it was an intramusucal injection in my hiney as opposed to be subcutaneous (fatty) injections in my tummy that I was used to, the needle basically just bounced back. Despite watching the how-to video where it talks about using a fast “dart-like” motion, I was convinced I could just slowly put the needle in like I had done with my other shots. Knowing you have to inject yourself with a 1.5 inch needle and actually looking at it (and being in a very unnatural position while doing it) is all very different than watching the how-to video.

So Amy was a gem and started making phone calls to all the healthcare professionals she knew in the area. About an hour and a half later, she drove me to Florence (a town about 25 minutes away) to meet up with our friend, Jessica. Jessica is a nurse and was a friend from our former church in Copperas Cove in the Fort Hood-area. She basically had me drop trow in a church parking lot, while Amy stood guard, and was done in about two seconds. I could barely even feel it at all, but she was nice enough not to make me feel like a huge baby for not giving myself the injection. We were convinced we would get arrested for drug dealing or something, but luckily our late night church parking lot injection went unnoticed by the people of Florence.

I proceeded to freak out because at this point the shot was about 2 hours later than it was supposed to be, but I was convinced by the on-call nurses and my friend, Victoria, that it would be fine and wouldn’t affect the egg retrieval on Monday, and luckily it did not. All in all, the egg retrieval went pretty well. We had to be in day surgery by 6:30 a.m., so we opted to stay in Temple the night before so we didn’t have to worry about oversleeping, potentially hitting I-35 traffic, etc. I’m all about limiting stress as much as possible. Unfortunately TRICARE doesn’t reimburse travel unless its 100+ from your residence and the Temple hospital is only 48 miles away, but c’est la vie. I won’t complain since TRICARE covers so much compared to other insurances.

Thanks to everyone’s comments, I was very vocal about having adhesive allergies and they gave me paper tape this time instead of the regular bandages. I didn’t have any issues from the bandages this time, thankfully. They did, unfortunately, stick the IV in my hand. However, since I was very vocal about my distaste for hand IVs, the nurse numbed be up really well beforehand. So other than the initial shot, it wasn’t too bad. I’m learning that being vocal pays off!

They doped me up for this procedure more than any other. From the initial shot in the IV, I started feeling dizzy. I remember them wheeling me into the operating room and chatting with the nurses. I remember that one of them told me she was pregnant with twins, so I shared my story about the psychic and gave her baby name suggestions (Aidan spelled backwards is Nadia if anyone is interested). I remember moving off the gurney to the operating table and after that I was completely out. I woke up in the recovery room seemingly seconds later. After waking up, I continued to lose time quite a bit. I kept thinking I had gone back to sleep, and Rene would tell me that no, I was just talking to him 30 seconds before that. It was pretty humorous. The doctor came in a little while after the procedure and told me they had gotten 17 eggs! That I definitely remember.

On Tuesday, the embryologist called to tell me we had 7 embryos. Today we had 9, so that was very exciting news! According to the embryologist they were “tarty for the party!” It’s very likely we’ll lose a few over the next couple of days but that’s definitely a good number to start off with. Much more than we had hoped or dreamed we would have.

The recovery hasn’t been too bad. I was a nauseated the first day, but that was might have been my fault since I was overly confident in the anti-nausea medicine and decided to eat left over Chinese food. Again, I’m still learning. Now that we can cross IVF off our to-do list, I went to the dentist for my 6 month check up. Unfortunately you can’t have dental work done while you’re on chemo due to infection risk, so I wanted to get a good cleaning in beforehand. I also met with my oncologist to touch base yesterday. My chemo starts on Thursday and I think both Rene and I benefited from having a talk with her. Since we’d been so consumed with IVF, I hadn’t seen her since my bone marrow biopsy more than 2 weeks before, and Rene had never met her.

One of the most frustrating things about chemo is that I have to give up all raw foods, including fruits and vegetables. I can still have them canned, frozen, or cooked, but the risk for bacterial infection is too high with raw. That also means I can’t have any sushi, which is basically an entire food group in our family’s diet. So as part of a pre-Chemo celebration, Rene took me to Chik-Fil-A yesterday so I could enjoy my usual grilled chicken sandwich complete with lettuce and tomato one last time before chemo. We then went to Walmart to stock up on some chemo friendly snacks. That proved a bit too ambitious for me, and I got pretty cramped up on that trip, so I took it easy the rest of the evening and re-watched some of the episodes from True Blood last year to pump up for the new season.

Today, Rene went back to work and I mostly relaxed. One of my other favorite “meals” that I won’t be eating during chemo are the soft-taco supremes from Taco Bell, so I ventured out to get those at lunch. This also proved to be too ambitious, and from a combination of my recovery, the Texas heat and waiting too long to eat I got a bit dizzy and nauseous while I was out, and didn’t enjoy the meal as much as I wished.

While I was out, I also retrieved my prescriptions from the pharmacy. Luckily, I’ll be getting a numbing cream so I can prep the port area before chemo starts tomorrow. They also prescribed me a pain killer. While I’m on the chemo, I’ll be immuno-suppressed and they need to know about any kind of infection I might have, so I can’t take any Advil, Tylenol and basically any over the counter pain medication because they can mask fevers. They also gave me anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory medicine to help assuaged some of the other chemo symptoms as well.

I get asked a lot about what kind of side effects I’ll have. I’m honestly not sure because chemo is different from person to person, session to session. The main things to watch out for are fatigue, nausea, constipation, loss of appetite, lethargy, light sensitivity, proneness to bruising and infection. I will probably lose some of my hair, if not all.

People always seem really fascinated and horrified with the hair loss aspect. Losing my hair is honestly the least of my worries. I just got in a multi-pack of turbans I ordered from Amazon, and they seem like they’ll get the job done if/when I lose my hair. Part of me is really not sad at all about the prospect since I’ll get a break from bad hair days and expensive haircuts for awhile! I’ll also potentially lose body hair which means I’m not plucking my eyebrows until further notice. Why put myself through such torture if I’m just going to lose them anyway? I’m still shaving my legs because, I mean, a girl has to have some standards. But honestly, hair loss is not something that bothers me a whole lot. Watch me freak out in a few weeks when it does happen, but right now I feel okay with it.

From extensive Googling I also found out that TRICARE will pay for one wig. I called my primary care manager and she’s going to figure out how to navigate that system to get that paid for, so I’ll keep you posted on how that process is works. Right now I’m planning just to wear the wig for special occasions and maybe to work, otherwise I’m going to turban it up or go au natural. As an Alias fan, I’ve always had a penchant for wigs anyway, so I might just stock up on some cheap costume ones with bizarro colors just for funsies.

I’m the one in the bright red wig dressed up as Sydney Bristow from Alias in this Halloween 2005 photo.

I also learned from Victoria that I qualify for a temporary disability tag, so my PCM is also helping me out with that process as well. Apparently it has to go through the tax office and not DPS or the DMV, who knew? Victoria also told me about this amazing program called Cleaning for a Reason, where maid services volunteer to clean chemo patients houses for once a month for free. I’ve already been approved and have my first session coming up in mid-June. I’m super ecstatic about this, and my house, pets and husband will also benefit greatly!

The actual chemo process starts tomorrow morning. So Rene is taking me out tonight for sushi for a “chemo eve” date, and then we’ll be in the hospital for more than four hours tomorrow while I receive treatment. I’ll keep you posted on how that process goes!

Edit: I also can’t have fresh flowers due to chemo. Quite a few of you have been amazing and have ordered some for me the past few weeks. Starting now, I won’t be able to have them in the house. If for some reason you’ve already ordered some for me, don’t worry, I’ll have Rene get them to a nursing home or some other deserving purpose.