Sunday, January 20, 2013

So glad to put 2012 behind me

This is a blog I have been planning to write for a while. Instead of rambling like I am sure I generally do, I will just say that 2012 sucked big time. There were some glimmers of silver lining around the huge, dark clouds, but those clouds were so big, it was hard for the sunlight to get through.

First off, Marshall and I were in a pretty bad car accident. We were very lucky to walk away with just scrapes and bruises. The car was not so lucky. But that's okay, it was just a car, and we had another one we could share. This was a character building experience.

Later, I lost my Uncle Tim. He passed away from an infection in August. He had been diagnosed with cancer, and as a fellow cancer survivor, I took his death rather hard. I should have been there for him, checking in and finding out what I could do to help. Instead, I found myself in our local catholic church, praying for forgiveness and strength for my Aunt Kathy.

In October, I was diagnosed with gallbladder disease while in New Mexico, and needed emergency (as emergent as could be scheduled) surgery. Marshall and I had been home for my brother's wedding, and he had to get back to work here in Georgia. When he learned that I needed surgery, he offered to fly back to be with me, but I told him I was in good hands with my parents. 10 days after my diagnosis, I finally had my gallbladder removed, and 5 days later, Marshall passed away in our home.

Next, my dad was hospitalized in early November for pneumonia. He went back and forth between being out of it and cognizant, such to the point that the doctors decided he needed to be sedated so his body could heal. He was placed into essentially a medically-induced coma for several days, and then they weaned him off the sedation to see how he was doing. It seemed the less sedative they gave him, the harder it was for him to come out of it. He did get better, and was taken out of the ICU for a couple of days, but ended up back in there after a series of seizures. They ended up having to put him back in the coma, and on life support, in early December.

It was decided to move my dad into hospice, and remove him from the life support, as that was not what he wanted. He was extubated and moved to hospice around 3PM on December 10. My mom, Traci, Reed and I were there with family and close friends when my dad took his last breath at 4:40PM.

All of the above could be seen as character building, and stepping stones on my path. I am not sure where that path may lead, but I am very sad to know that the two greatest men in my life will no longer be walking beside me. I do know that there is a grander plan, and scheme, and that all three of these men are guiding and protecting me from above.

And while 2012 sucked, I have faith that 2013 will be a better year.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Patience of Job

I have been told many times that I should write a book about my life, and surviving cancer. About a month ago, I added a new chapter to my "story" and figured I would write a blog post once it played out. I was diagnosed with Gallbladder disease and told I needed to have my gallbladder removed. But then about three weeks ago, my "story" came to a screeching halt. Let me start at the beginning.

My husband, Marshall, and I flew to New Mexico on October 3, for my brother's wedding in Ruidoso. It was a wonderful weekend with my family. We stayed in a cabin with my parents, my sister, and her fiance. We watched Tres and Liz exchange vows, and partied into the night with them. Tres also had the DJ play our song (Randy Travis' Forever, and Ever, Amen), so we could dance. It was truly a memorable event that I was glad to be a part of.

Marshall, my sister, future brother-in-law, and I headed back to my parents house on Sunday night, since Marshall had a flight back Atlanta the next afternoon. We had a great night watching movies and eating pizza. The next day we had planned a trip to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta,  and a quick trip out to Moriarty, so Marshall could "walk the land" we were planning to buy.

I woke up that morning with horrible indigestion. Traci and Jeroen weren't wanting to wake up earlier either, plus the balloons had been grounded due to weather. We finally got up and about and headed to Albuquerque. We decided to head to Marshall's favorite restaurant for breakfast, and then run post-wedding errands for the newlywed's, then out to Moriarty. By the time we dropped Marshall off at the airport, I was feeling pretty bad again. We headed back to my parents and they had just gotten home. By about 6PM, I was feeling horrible and had thrown up twice. This is very unusual for me. Marshall called to tell me he had landed in Las Vegas (his connection) and I told him I was headed to Urgent Care. He offered to turn around, but I told him he needed to head home and go make money.

When I got to urgent care they were concerned I was having a cardiac event and called for an ambulance. Two hours later I was headed to Albuquerque for the second time that day, where I waited several hours for the cardiac tests. Several more hours later Marshall made it home, and was ready to head back. Again, I told him that he needed to go to work the next day. I had an ultrasound done, and the doctor saw TONS of gallstones.

Long story short (sorry, it was already LONG), I had a hard time getting in to see a surgeon just for the consult. Marshall and I decided I would stay in New Mexico, since the doctors were already getting the ball rolling for my surgery, and if I headed home, I may be waiting longer. I finally got my surgery scheduled for October 18 (six days after I was supposed to fly home) in Rio Rancho, about an hour drive from my parents' house.

On the day of the surgery, it turns out my gallbladder was A LOT worse than the doctor's originally thought, and the operation took a little longer than the surgeon thought. While I was having surgery, Marshall was meeting with a Workman's Comp doctor. He had pulled his neck/back while working in the freezer at the grocery store where he works. (He had recently been named frozen food manager in September). His doctor told him he needed to stay home from work and could return on Monday, October 22, on light duty.

I guess his neck/back was still bothering him, because he went home early that day, and called me before 7PM Georgia time to tell me he was going to bed. He generally did not go to bed until around 11PM. I didn't think too much about it. Tuesday, he was supposed to go to work, and then see his Workman's Comp doctor that afternoon. Tuesday morning I texted him, as I figured he was at work. A couple hours later, I tried calling him. Still no answer. I figured he was busy at work. After several calls throughout the day, around 5PM Georgia time, I called my neighbor across the street and asked him to go see if the truck was at the house. Doug called back to say the truck was parked at the back door, and the house was locked up tight. He and his wife walked around calling Marshall's name, with no luck.

My mom called the store to find out if Marshall had gone in that day, but it turns out he called in sick. I told Doug to do what he could to try and get into the house. I knew it would be hard, since Marshall had that house locked up tight. All windows are screwed shut, and the doors were reinforced. My mom called the non-emergency police and told them what was going on, and asked that they send an officer over to assist Doug. After trying and failing to get the hinges taken off the back door, Doug was able to slide the guard on the A/C window unit over in the bedroom window, and see Marshall laying on the bed. The police officer with them called the paramedics.

I then told Doug to do whatever he could to get the door open. Once they got into the house, it was determined that Marshall had passed away in his sleep.

He was 57 years old, and other than the neck and back issue, as far as I knew, he was healthy.

The worst part has been losing my best friend, and being in Georgia without him. My mom flew with me to Atlanta that Thursday, and my aunt (who unfortunately lost her husband on August 5) drove in from Texas on Saturday. Marshall wanted to be cremated and did not want a funeral. We had a celebration of his life on Sunday at a local restaurant. It was exactly what I think he would want. There were some tears, but there was also laughing and a lot of stories. I think he was looking over us and beaming.

I have several family trips planned over the next month, and will head home to New Mexico for Christmas and New Years. The holidays were our favorite, so this will be pretty hard, but I am doing my very best to hang in here.

Maybe someday I will write this book, and it will be dedicated to the greatest man I have ever known. He was my best friend, and while he annoyed me more than I would like to admit, he taught me patience, love, and how to be my independent self. That is probably the best gift he ever gave me, he encouraged me to be me.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Anti-cancer, but also anti-pink!

I wrote an anti-pink blog back in October of 2010, and I am surprised that two years later, come this time of year, other cancer survivors/fighters are still finding MY blog while searching for anti-pink ribbons.

Here is a link to my original post:

October is my favorite month...BUT...

While Ford's Warriors in Pink commercials have begun airing during my favorite TV shows, I have to say that I am not quite as annoyed as I have been in past years.

Actors such as Billy Gardell and Neil Patrick Harris are seen wearing the Warrior in Pink apparel, and the commercial says that you can pick where your donation goes (according to uneasy pink there are four different organizations from which you can choose). This makes seeing so much pink a little easier.

I think having been in remission now for almost 8 years helps, too. I am proud to have the title of SURVIVOR, but more than anything, I want to be LONNIE. I am a flawed human, like everyone else. I just happened to be extremely blessed to have not been defeated by an ugly word and disease.

For all of my fellow cancer survivors, and those cancer fighters, who can't stand the wash of pink this time of year, just try and remember that there are other wonderful organizations out there like Stand Up to Cancer and the American Cancer Society that aren't only concerned about the ta-tas.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Interview with Ovarian Cancer Survivor AND Olympic Gold Medalist

I was recently asked to share the below interview with Olympic Gold Medalist, and Ovarian Cancer Survivor,  Shannon Miller. In light of the current 2012 London Olympics, I think it is a great time to share this message!

From Olympic Gold to Ovarian Cancer: Our Interview with Former US Gymnast Shannon Miller

With all the excitement surrounding this summer’s London 2012 Olympic games, MCA had the rare opportunity to interview America’s most decorated U.S. gymnast and ovarian cancer survivor, Shannon Miller, to ask her about the parallels between her battle for the Gold in '96 and the battle for her life a few years later.
As the leader of the “Magnificent Seven” ‘96 gold medal-winning Olympic Women’s Gymnastic team, Shannon Miller is no stranger to victory. Recently in January of 2011, Ms. Miller had to put her winning attitude forward again when she was diagnosed with a malignant germ cell tumor, a form of ovarian cancer. In our interview, Ms. Miller speaks about how being an champion gymnast helped her go for the gold against her biggest competition yet-- cancer.
Shannon Miller winning Olympic GoldBecoming the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history obviously took years of hard training and preparation. Can you think of anything that could have prepared you for a cancer diagnosis?
Olympic training was probably the best preparation for cancer. Not only was the physical aspect important (remembering to keep my body moving) but the mental impact was critical. I tried hard to maintain a positive outlook and control those things that I could while letting the rest go. And above all, I had to remember that when I get knocked down I have to just get…back….up.
Your son was only 15 months old when you were going through treatment. How did he affect your treatment and just the everyday process of having cancer?
There was the logistical part that was difficult. I wasn’t allowed to lift Rocco for 8 weeks after my surgery. That’s very difficult when he was not yet walking and still taking three naps a day. Once I started chemo it was like he understood that mommy needed him. He was so sweet and just kept the laughter going. That’s what I really needed.
In an interview with People magazine you mentioned that one of your biggest fears about your prognosis was how your son, Rocco, might react to “Mommy being bald.” Many mothers who are diagnosed with cancer mention their first fears being about their family and how their loved ones will react and/or deal with their illness. What advice can you give mothers, of small children especially, going through similar situations as yours and with similar worries about their family members?
I worried that he would be scared of me. As a new mother that’s a pretty terrifying thought. I also worried about long term issues. He was very young but also very perceptive as most children are. We always try to keep things upbeat and positive but we also didn’t shy away from simply telling him mommy isn’t feeling well and she’s going to lie down for a bit. When I had treatment at home, he understood that what I was doing was helping me to get better. I didn’t think he’d remember much but recently he ask for a doctor’s kit and goes around taking everyone’s blood pressure – Bunny has the best blood pressure of us all!
How will you explain cancer and your personal journey with it to your son?
Shannon Miller on the beamI won’t any time soon. He doesn’t need to understand it at this point and my treatment is over. All he needs to know is that mommy loves him.
An athlete for the majority of your life and an active person post-retirement from gymnastics, how did you cope with the days when treatment stifled your activity and you really just couldn’t do anything?
I’m not good with limits and surgery and chemo certainly limit you. I created goals for each day and each week to help keeping me going. Some days my goal was simply to get up and get dressed. Other days I could take a 10 minute walk. I was so proud of myself the first time I took the stairs to my doctor’s office for one of my treatments. Three floors, very slow, very winded, but I made it!!
Who was your absolute biggest support throughout your entire journey with ovarian cancer?
God is at the top of my list, followed closely by my husband. Here is a man that dealt with his wife and his father both going through a cancer diagnosis at the same time. In fact we had back to back surgery days! John took care of everything, food, laundry, running home to lift Rocco into the crib when I couldn’t. He kept everyone in the family going with humor. All of this while continuing to run his company. I think he had a much rougher year than I did.
Are there any beauty secrets you can share for women going through cancer treatment?
Shannon Miller and her medalsTry scarves, sunglasses and big earrings. Also, you can look online at my website under the My Journey blog. We have some great how to videos on wearing makeup during chemo or radiation when your skin is very sensitive and you might not have eyelashes or eye brows. Adding a little color to your cheeks goes a long way!
You have said that Robin Roberts is a “real beacon of hope to many people.” What do you think it takes to be a beacon of hope? How do you hope your story inspires others?
I hope that by being so public about my diagnosis, I encourage other women to get their regular exams and screening and to always listen to their body. My mission is to help women make their health a priority.
You had no symptoms preceding your diagnosis. What would you tell a young girl, or any female for that matter, who did not see the necessity in regular medical check ups and screenings?
Get your annual exams and screenings. Know your families medical history. Even if you feel great, this is a good time to create a baseline with your physician so that if something seems off you’ll both know. In my case, I had no symptoms at all. I almost skipped my exam. I went anyway and they found a baseball sized tumor – I had no idea!! Get your exams on time, every time.
You were given a clean bill of health in September 2011. Almost a year later now, what would you consider your “new normal?” How did cancer force you to adjust your usual life and find a new way of life?
My new normal is understanding balance a little better. I make time for rest as much as possible. But I also want to live life to the fullest. I continue to do what I love and have made it a point to spend more time with the people I love. I’m happier and more appreciative than I have ever been in my life. I thank God every day for life.
For more from Shannon Miller, visit her website, Shannon Miller Lifestyle, for health and fitness tips for women, to download her ebook “Competing with Cancer”, and updates on what you can expect from Ms. Miller next!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Weight Loss Progress Report Aug 2012

Well, its been a while since I posted about my weight loss journey. I have been doing pretty good. Since I last posted, I have lost another 13 pounds! I have not been as diligent with my diet, as I was traveling in May and June. I gave myself the freedom from keeping track of my calories during that time period, and then I let it continue once I got home. I figured, "hey, its summertime, live a little!" Well, it's still technically summer, but since it is the beginning of the month, I'm going back to my Lose It! app and program to continue following my "diet."

I will say that I tried to stay close to what I know I should (and shouldn't be eating). I resisted most urges to indulge in heavy desserts or alcohol (except while eating out in Washington DC, I figure all the walking I did there counteracted the calories. Go girl math!).

I have noticed though, that by not counting calories, I have not lost weight in the last month. The good thing, though, I have not GAINED weight. And that makes me happy! This could be in part because I have taken up an exercise routine. I have started walking around my neighborhood every other day. I go every other day, because I feel this is a schedule I can keep up. Marshall has actually been pretty helpful, asking me (everyday it seems) if I have taken my walk. I try and do it early in the day, between 9 and 10AM, when it is not incredibly hot (although this IS Georgia, so it is always humid). The walk only takes me about 20 minutes, and is a little over a mile. I have been doing this for four weeks now, and I am very proud of myself. I will change my route a little, adding more distance, soon.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was excited to buy dresses for my brother's and my sister's upcoming weddings. I bought the perfect dress for my brother's wedding, and was beyond elated when I got it and tried it on. The description said that the dress ran large, so order one size smaller. I ordered a 14/16 which I have not fit in in YEARS! As for my sister's wedding, my mom and I went dress shopping while I was home, and you know how bridal shops have only a few sizes, so they have you try on the larger and pin it all up? The largest skirt they had in the style my sister picked was a 14, and it fit too! These are the type of things I need to document so that when I hit that wall of "I can't do this anymore" I can look back and remember what I have already accomplished and keep trucking on.

As part of my continued motivation, I want to list not only what I have lost in weight, but in inches.

Since I began this journey in September 2011 I have lost the following:

35 pounds
3 inches off my hips
3 inches off my chest
3 inches off my thighs
2 inches off my waist
1 inch off my calves
1/2 inch off my neck
1 inch off my forearms
2 inches off my biceps

I hope that I can be an inspiration to others, as well as myself.

December 2011, approximately 230 pounds

June 2011, 215 pounds

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Don't forget to brush (and floss) your teeth!

Teeth WhiteningThat may sound like a funny title, and you are probably saying to yourself, "Eww! Of course I remember to brush my teeth!"

The reason for my post is that while I was undergoing chemotherapy, and fighting for a life that was likely to be cut way too short, taking care of my teeth was the last thing on my mind. And, apparently, it also wasn't a concern of my doctors.

While I was going through chemo, my sister had braces. One day, about a year into my treatments, I was feeling pretty good, and I accompanied my mom and sister to her orthodontist appointment. That day, there was a visiting doctor in the office. A very nice man, who offered to take a look at my mouth while my sister was brushing her teeth. I remember him telling my mom and I that chemo causes dry mouth (this I knew very well!) and that because there was a lack of saliva, that bacteria could grow.

It's funny, because I remember this conversation very well now, but did not think too much of it during those days of treatment. There were days in those beginning months where I was so depressed that I had to be made to get up and take a shower. I really truly wish I had taken better care of my teeth and brushed every day, if not twice a day.

Anyway, over the last few years, I have had a lot of oral problems, mostly all stemming from side effects of chemo. I have had four root canals, and two were unsuccessful and lead to extractions of the teeth. Both of those happened before I was 30. I have found a dentist who is working with me to get my mouth back up to par. This includes having five teeth pulled, luckily, three of which are my wisdom teeth (the fourth one never came in), but that is still two more molars that I am losing.

I have been planning to write something like this for weeks now, but what actually made me sit down and write it is that the very woman who saved my life, my family nurse practitioner, is also fighting a battle that flossing her teeth might have prevented.

Laura suffered a stroke while driving last year. Over the past year she has made leaps and bounds towards her recovery, but in the last few weeks she developed an infection in her brain. It was recently discovered that the infection was quite possibly caused by gum disease. In a recent update, Laura asked her daughter to remind family and friends to floss their teeth! The doctors have given her antibiotics and they believe the infection will go away.

Back to my original topic. Take care of your mouth! There are so many health issues that can be avoided just by brushing and flossing daily.

For anyone currently going through chemotherapy, here is a link to Colgate's website, and information on chemotherapy and dental health. Here is another link for Livestrong that has information from the American Dental Association, National Cancer Institute and the Siteman Cancer Center.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

CBS News Story

My mom sent me a link tonight to a CBS News story on Adolescents and Young Adults with cancer, and how this is a growing group of cancer patients. The story focused on two cancer patients who are in remission or cured, but who have issued stemming from their chemotherapy. Reading the article, I was reminded of what I went through, but it was when I watched the video that a wave a nausea and/or anger came over me.

When I was told I had cancer, before I had any biopsies done, or any diagnostic tests to try and pinpoint the cancer, I made it known that my biggest fear was that it was in my female parts and that I would have to have a hysterectomy. When I found out that it wasn't gynecological, my mind went to fighting whatever it was. At the time, before beginning any treatment, no one ever asked me about saving my eggs for the future. I was 22 years old, and I had every intention of beating cancer. I was also in a long-term, monogamous relationship.

I have blogged before about wanting kids and not knowing if that will ever happen for me. It seems irresponsible for my doctors, any of them, all of them, to not have this conversation with me. I know my prognosis was not good, and it only got worse once I started treatment; but here I am. I am 31 years old, married to a wonderful man, and I don't know if I will ever be able to have children of my own. And that sucks.

Here's to 2012 Being the Healthiest Yet

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have struggled with my weight all my life. But that struggle is probably what saved my life. Many women would be horrified to share their actual weight with the world, but in this new era of reality TV (with Biggest Loser and Celebrity Fit Club being huge successes), more women are sharing. I am going to join their ranks, as a way to help myself keep losing weight.

First of all, I am doing this without the help of programs like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. The big reason, I love food, and I love to cook. I cannot imagine having prepackaged foods sent to my house weekly. What I am doing is cutting down on, and keeping track of, my calories. This past August, while visiting Orlando, I purchased a Fitbit Trainer. I was looking for a pedometer to keep track of the steps I took while walking around Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. What I got was so much more. The Fitbit Trainer counts your steps, but also calculated distances, calories burned and keeps track of your sleep efficiency. That in itself is pretty cool, but what is truly awesome is the accompanying website The site lets you keep track of the foods you eat. There is a database of common foods, and you can add to the database if what you ate is not listed. You can also create meals, by adding the ingredients. Once I figured this all out, I cut my caloric intake down to 1600-1800 calories a day.

At my heaviest, I weighed 279 pounds. When I first heard this number, I was so disappointed in myself. Granted, in a lot of ways, I had no control of the weight I gained. When I was diagnosed with Hypomagnesemia (a condition where my body is low on magnesium, an essential electrolyte) in September of 2004, I was given daily magnesium infusions. The magnesium was administered in one liter of saline. As you know, saline is salt water. I do not know exactly how many liters of salt water I was given, but I gained so much weight, that in the spring of 2005 I asked my doctor if they could put the magnesium in a smaller amount of liquid. I really wish I had asked this question months earlier, as they were able to administer the dosage in 50 milliliters of dextrose, a sugar solution.

When I got married in May of 2007, I had lost about 15 pounds and was happier with myself. I think that came from the amount of walking I did around Las Vegas, while I was finishing my Bachelor's degree at UNLV. A few more years, and I had gotten down to 250 pounds, which made me feel better, as I was only 10 pounds heavier than what I was before I got sick. At the time, this was a number I could live with.

Today, I weigh 228 pounds. My goal weight (for now) is 200 pounds. My Fitbit website says that I should reach that goal by July of this year. That excites me, because my brother is getting married in October, and I look forward to rocking a great dress. It has been a while since I have looked forward to buying a dress (or any clothes for that matter). My sister will also be getting married in a little over a year, and that gives me an even bigger incentive to get my but in gear and get fit and HEALTHY.

November 2006, approximately 280 pounds

December 2011, approximately 230 pounds

What are some things that you do to keep off the weight, or live healthier after the chemo is done? For those of you still fighting the battle, do you think about what you will do once it is over, or is the focus on the here and now? What about for those who are just trying to live a healthier life? Any pointers, recipes, or just general support is greatly appreciated!

(NOTE: This is not an advertisement for Fitbit. I just love mine!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I can't believe it has been almost a year since I have posted on this blog. Wow, I guess this can be seen as a good thing. It means I am putting my cancer diagnosis behind me, as best I can.

The last year has been a pretty good one. My most recent CT Scan came back clear, which is always good. I am still in remission. I still don't want to use the word "cured" as I don't really know if I will ever be considered cured.

I did have a scare last spring, that may or may not be related to my cancer diagnosis. I was having major lower right facial pains, which was diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia, but in true Lonnie form, my symptoms were much different from the normal presentation. I won't bore you with all the details, but I will say that after many trips to a neurologist, an MRI, and 9 months of Gabapentin (greatest multi-use drug out there), I have not had any pains in close to 9 months.

This year I hope to finish telling my story (which includes taking time to scan pictures), or at least continue telling my story, as I plan to have a long and HEALTHY life. Now that I have graduated from grad school, I may actually have the time to do this.

Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for good health!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy New Year, Even Though it is Almost February

I know I haven't posted in a while. This is still somewhat hard for me. I have spent the last hour rereading through my posts, and I realize that there is still so much to write about. Part of the reason I have been holding off is because I want to be able to include pictures (and these pictures have to be scanned). For my family and friends they would probably rather not have to look at the pictures and see me that way again, but I really do think it helps tell the story.

Its funny, last Christmas my mom bought me this fuzzy white ski cap with a little turtle on the front. I think I must have had my hair up in a pony-tail, because when I tried the hat on, she got this look on her face. Then she said "okay, take it off." I guess in that very brief moment, she was taken back to when I was bald, and wore hats to keep my head warm. Its crazy to see that face of hers after all these years.

I understand how she feels, and that may be why she does not keep up with my blog postings, but that is okay. I know that my battle was just as hard on her as it was on me, for different reasons. Writing this blog is my way of coping and moving on. Someday I hope she is in a place where she can read it, laugh at the funny stories I recall, and maybe even help me remember the details I have forgotten.