Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Post 36: The start of a new chapter.

Elise 15 months with a cancer free mommy
My last dose of chemo!
Phillip and I went to our oncology appointment on Monday, July 30th to find out the results of my blood work and CT scans.We were so nervous because every time we go to speak with the main oncology doctor we would hear more bad news.  "It's more aggressive than we thought, we need to do eight rounds of chemo instead of six." We went to Gainesville the night before because our appointment was at 8am the next day. We tried to make a date night of it, stay in a hotel and have a fun trip, but we were just too nervous to even talk much at dinner. To our relief (which is an understatement) the next morning at my appointment, my doctor came in and  looked at us with a huge smile and said everything looks good! He said the most beautiful word we've heard in a while - REMISSION! We still are in shock and can't believe this is finally behind us. I haven't wanted to announce anything until now because honestly I didn't want to jinx myself.  But I am so excited to officially say I am remission and do not have any detectable cancer in my body. All of my CT scans for my chest, abdomen and pelvis came back clear. We did however see a strange spot on my liver where the flow of blood has changed. It is something that has changed since my last surgery, but they are not too concerned with it. They will just keep an eye on it. I will go back every 3 months now for my appointments instead of every 3 weeks. Yay!!!I am so relieved to have finished my 8th round of chemo and I will not have to do anymore chemo treatments! We are tremendously grateful, overwhelmed with relief,  happy,  terrified, exhausted...there are just really no words to describe all of the emotions we have been feeling lately.

Back in my classroom for another year of teaching! 
Even though the worst part is over and behind us, (and we are sooo grateful for that) there is still a lot of work ahead of us. Phillip and I are both pretty broken, and drained emotionally and physically. We are trying to get a lot of rest and spend some time together just being a normal family. We've forgotten what it is like to just relax and not have this dark cloud constantly looming over our heads. I also really need to work on getting my strength back. My doctor said now is the time for me to start focusing on my fitness and nutrition. Three vitamins that are the most important for me right now are Calcium, Vitamin D, & Iron. I was not able to take any vitamin supplements while on chemo because it can exacerbate some of the side effects. For example, folic acid was a big NO-NO. It would cause my feet to blister up severely. I am also recovering from the extreme fatigue that chemo can cause. He explained that this will all pass with time, but for now I should expect to feel a lot more pain and discomfort as I become more active because my muscles have become so weak. My body is definitely screaming at me since I have started back to work teaching, 40 hours a week. He told me to treat everything I do like a mini workout. If I go to the grocery store and push around my grocery cart - that is considered a workout. Wimpy, I know. But that is all I can handle at the moment. The smallest things still wear me out, but acknowledging  that my body has been through hell and back reminds me to be more patient and gentle with myself and that it's all part of the process of getting better. I am learning my limits but I still need to push myself a bit. I want to get stronger and I am seeing a difference each day. Every day gets a little bit easier and that makes me so excited! Going back to school has been difficult but it has been so good for me. I am happy to be back in a routine and making progress! I was also named teacher of the year for my school at our County Schools Convocation. That was such a wonderful moment and a huge honor! It was so great seeing everyone. I forgot how much I missed being at work and with the kids in class. My classroom is definitely one of my happy places and it has really helped me through this whole process.

My whole world. 
As for the emotional part of the healing process, that one is a little harder. Phillip and I are drained to the core. It's been a scary ride and we have been in constant fight mode for over a year. You can't stay that way forever without it doing a little emotional damage. Phillip has been doing so much and he just amazes me every day.  A lot of people praise me and tell me how strong I have been, but honestly Phillip is the one who has been incredibly strong.  He has been doing an amazing job taking care of our family and caring for me while I am sick. I don't mean just bringing me soup and fluffing my pillow like you see in the movies. Phillip has gone above and beyond. I have never seen a more genuine act of love and heroism than what this man does for our family every day. I am so lucky and blessed beyond words to have him as my husband, best friend and father to our little girl. Phillip tells me I am beautiful every day even when I was gray and sick from chemo. He changed my bandages, emptied my drains after surgery,  helped me change my ostomy bag,  taken me to countless doctors appointments, slept on an air mattress on the floor during hospital stays and has never left my side. He has held me while I cried through panic attacks, and eased all my fears even when I know he was scared to death himself. He has washed my hair,  carried me when I didn't have the energy to walk,  fed and bathed me at times,  brought me my medications,  taken care of all the bills,  taken on the role of a single father at times when I could not get out of bed.  He does the dishes, washes the clothes and while he manages to do all of this for me, he has been an exceptional father to Elise. Most days he does all of this completely by himself without help.  He has never once complained and has done it all with a loving heart.  Of course he is human and has days where he breaks down.. We cry together, talk about our fears, and there are days we feel both feel sick from worrying so much.  But this incredible man has been my rock. He has never skipped a beat and he amazes me every day. I don't think I could love him anymore than I do today. The love we had when we first got married is nothing compared to what I feel for him now. We have grown together so much and have truly become a team. He is my hero and my best friend. A lot of people say I have been brave. I haven't. I have just been doing what the doctors have told me to do because that is my only choice. You just do it so you can be with your family. The brave ones are the caregivers. Those are the people that work tirelessly to help their loved ones through an illness while they have to sit there and watch them be in pain. This cancer has not just been my illness, it has been both of ours. He feels pain when I am in pain. He is sad when I am sad. He is terrified just as much as I am - maybe more at times. No matter how gruesome or uncomfortable any situation was that we have been through together, Phillip has never once left my side. That to me is true bravery. I am forever grateful for him and I don't know how I got so lucky to have him come into my life.

Our little family at our favorite restaurant on SSI
As a family we still have a ways to go. We haven't quite figured out how to just be US again. We are so used to being in this constant state of worrying and we haven't learned how to let go of that yet. I still get this lump in my stomach when the phone rings. I have a hard time looking at pictures of myself before my cancer diagnosis. Sometimes I hardly recognize myself in the pictures and I feel like I have lost that girl I used to be. I miss her. Back then my only worries were shedding a few pounds, wondering what to make for dinner, or not wanting to get up early for work.  I had no idea what was ahead of us. Those were the easy days. But every day I can tell I'm getting a little bit better. I know I will never be that same girl, but in a way I am grateful for that. I have learned to appreciate things so much more. I have learned to love more and enjoy the little moments that I used to take for granted.  Although Phillip and I are still experiencing a lot of anxiety, we are working hard to get that under control. I've seen a therapist to learn how to control some of my panic attacks and I am able to spot the first signs now and shorten the time and frequency of them.  Phillip has also gone to the doctor to discuss how he can control his anxiety as well. We've been trying to just put it all out of our head and do things as a family again.  This past weekend, Phillip, Elise and I went to Brunswick/St. Simons, GA to see family. We haven't seen them in a long time since we've been so wrapped up in treatments and appointments. It was good to get away. Anna, my sweet sister in law took some photos of just Phillip and I together. We haven't had any photos of just the two of us in years. I am excited to have them and I am so grateful Anna was able to do this for us. I will post some pictures soon. It was a special time for us because It really marked a huge milestone.  Elise is absolutely wonderful. She is so amazing and changing everyday. She is 16 months now and is so much fun. She is dancing and clapping. She's always so happy and could not be a sweeter baby! I never knew I could love someone so much! She is really what keeps us going. We are just so happy to be able to move on to the next chapter in our lives together. We get to just be mommy and daddy for a while and that makes us so happy.

So, all is well again in the Klapp household. I still have two outpatient procedures left and my second surgery will be in November. I still have a lot of fear about what is to come, but I am so grateful for my amazing doctors, surgeons and nurses at Shands. They have been amazing and we know I am in good hands when I am there. I will keep everyone posted on how those upcoming scopes / outpatient procedures go. Thanks again for everyone's continued thoughts and prayers. We could not have gone through all of this without you all!