Monthly Archives: April 2018

Radiation, Here We Go!

On Thursday, May 3, I start radiation. I have 17 rounds of radiation which takes place everyday, Monday through Friday. This is the last of my cancer treatment and I should finish on May 25. This is perfect timing because my maternity leave ends then and I go back to work on May 29!

Radiation Treatment 

In preparation for radiation, I had several appointments. My radiation oncologist needed to know the health of my lungs and heart, so I had a pulmonary function test and an echocardiogram. I also had another PET scan. My mass has shrunk down from 4.0 x 4.6 cm (in March after four chemo treatments) to 2.9 x 3.2 cm (after all six chemo treatments). It’s crazy to think when I was diagnosed, my mass was 16 cm! And most importantly, the PET scan shows that I continue to be in remission.

My radiation treatment is customized just for me and my body. To do this, the radiation oncology team does a simulation to prepare everything. I have a face mask custom molded to the shape of my face and head and a bean bag-like cushion that’s vacuum sealed to the shape of my upper body. My body has to sit precisely in line for the radiation to hit the right spot (and not hit other spots). To additionally ensure this precision, I had three dots tattooed on me so they know exactly where to line me up. My body has also been marked up with markers and covered with tape to prevent the marks from being rubbed off. So for the next 3 weeks I’m going to walk around with funny looking fake tattoos! I feel kinda gangsta. I’m so ready to be done with cancer treatment that I’ll do anything they tell me to do.

Me with some of my radiation markings. There are more on chest and other arm!

Typically when you get diagnosed with a blood cancer, a bone marrow biopsy is ordered to determine if the cancer has spread to the bone marrow. I never got a bone marrow biopsy because I urgently needed to start chemo immediately due to how aggressive my cancer was. Also the procedure requires you to lay on your stomach and I couldn’t do that because I was pregnant. So after all six chemo treatments, I finally had the bone marrow biopsy. It was negative for cancer cells! The actual biopsy procedure was really painful though, even with lidocaine. They use a needle the size of a meat thermometer and insert it into your bone! I hope I never have to do that again.

Maternity Leave Ending

I’m down to my last month of maternity leave! Even with all my medical appointments, I’ve enjoyed my maternity leave with Joel. Maybe because this time I know what the hell I’m doing and am more relaxed. In actuality, it’s also because I have my mom helping me regularly, I’m getting more sleep (night nanny = amazing), and I’m not breastfeeding. Plus, Joel has been an easy baby. I’m trying to be more productive with my time by exercising, cooking and reading more.

Everything Happens for a Reason

When I got diagnosed, everything happened so fast. I didn’t have time to research oncologists or high risk obstetricians experienced with pregnant cancer patients. They were more or less assigned to me and I had to trust them.

My primary care doctor knew a general oncologist at MD Anderson Sugar Land. I saw that oncologist a few hours after I was diagnosed. Then the general oncologist wanted me to see a lymphoma oncologist at the MD Anderson main campus where there’s an entire lymphoma department. When the lymphoma department scheduler called me, she knew she needed to get me in the next day. She asked if I could come in at 10:30am. As silly as it sounds, I had a prenatal massage scheduled at that time and didn’t want to miss it (I had back pain and needed to relax with everything going on!). I asked if they had an appointment in the afternoon. She said they had an opening at 1pm so I took it. I asked who the doctor was and they gave me the doctor’s name. It turned out that doctor was the oncologist in the lymphoma department that was one of the most experienced with pregnant patients.

When I met with the lymphoma oncologist, she advised me to consider changing obstetricians to one who was experienced with cancer patients. Roberto had tried to Google high risk obstetricians that had experience with cancer patients and could only find two in Houston, but there wasn’t much information. We asked the lymphoma oncologist if she had had one she could recommend. She ended up recommending one of the high risk obstetricians that Roberto found. My lymphoma oncologist contacted the high risk obstetrician so I could be seen by her in time to start chemo right after that. We were able to meet her two days later and I transferred my prenatal care to her.

I bring up these stories because at my recent checkups with both my lymphoma oncologist and my high risk obstetrician, I learned that both will no longer be seeing patients in clinic. Additionally, my lymphoma oncologist is leaving MD Anderson and moving to another city. I was likely one of their last pregnant cancer patients and they both became my doctors almost entirely by chance. I never sought out these two doctors who saved my life and Joel’s life. They came into my life at just the right time.

Things come into our life and happen all for a reason. It seems unexplainable in the beginning, but when the journey’s over it all starts to make sense. I never asked for cancer to rudely disrupt my life and my pregnancy. But perhaps if it didn’t happen when it did, I would have never been saved by my doctors.

I trust the universe to bring the right people and circumstances into my life at the right time.

What Cancer Did to My Life

“There are two types of pain in this world: Pain that hurts you, and pain that changes you.”

The type of pain that cancer brings to one’s life (and their loved ones) is indescribable. Until you go through it or have someone intimately close to you go through it, It’s hard to understand. Sometimes we focus so much on the negativity associated with pain that we miss the meaning of why things happen and how it changes your life. What surprised me the most is what I learned from having cancer.

Appreciating the Little Things in Life

Before cancer happened, I used to think to myself how being a mom was sometimes so draining. When would I have time to do things for myself? Can I just use the restroom in peace? Can I eat my food while it’s hot without having to scarf it down? Would my house ever be clean for longer than 15 minutes? And this was just with one kid. How drained would I feel when we have our second child? Of course being a mom is rewarding, but it’s nonstop! I think other moms out there get exhausted from it all, too.

Then I got diagnosed and in a sad, cruel way, I got what I asked for. I couldn’t take care of my daughter the same way before and relied on others to help. I spent hours in the hospital by myself and had more than enough “me” time. I had all the time now to use the restroom or eat my meal slowly. I vowed to myself that when I was healthy again, I would never complain again about being too busy being a mom. I would take a crazy life juggling two kids over cancer any day. Cancer gave me a new perspective on motherhood; I’d embrace the daily chaos instead of resent it.

Acts of Kindness

So many people reached out to us offering to help or asking how they can help. I learned from the beginning I would have to be okay with accepting help. As hard as it was for me to accept (I always feel like I’m inconveniencing people), I knew I couldn’t get through this alone.

We had a meal train set up for us by the YMCA and by my coworkers at DE. We never had to cook once in the last four months and this greatly alleviated our to do list. We had delicious food delivered to us. My friends are really great cooks! Sometimes I was surprised by the people who signed up to bring a meal for us. I didn’t know they had cared enough about me and my family to spend their time and money to provide us a meal. I was taken aback by their act of kindness and generosity. I may never be able to equally reciprocate back to them, but I want to pay it forward to someone else to keep the kindness chain going.

Hot pot provided by my brother

It wasn’t just meals provided to us. I had family and friends also provide care baskets to me, toys for Camila, and play dates with Camila. I’m so grateful for these kind gestures.

Unconditional Love

Almost unconsciously, we know there are people in our lives who love us unconditionally. Our parents, significant others, extended family, best friends, etc. But to experience someone’s unconditional love for you is an awe inspiring feeling.

This unconditional love is something I saw firsthand daily for the last four months. When I was unable, Roberto took care of me, our household, and our daughter. He did it without hesitation and with pleasure. My parents prioritized taking care of Camila and Joel to help us balance all of my medical appointments, household chores, and giving Roberto a break. Even at 33 years old, I see my parents selflessly never wanting to stop taking care of me. They are my best teachers on how to be a good parent to my own children.

My parents with Joel

Everyone Has Their Journey

When I was younger and got out of a bad relationship, I asked myself “why me?”. It was difficult for me to understand why I couldn’t have a happy relationship while many others around me did. What was I doing wrong? What did I lack? I longingly wanted the same happiness.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized everyone has their journey in life. Camila was a fussy newborn that didn’t sleep well at night, I had a questionable breastmilk supply, and I was sleep deprived. I looked at my other mom friends and it seemed like everyone had it together (and social media does not help this). It took awhile for me to realize that no two people have the same experience. Everyone has their ups and downs that they deal with. Comparing myself to others or longing for a life that appeared perfect was unrealistic. Once I accepted and understood this, it made it easier for me to enjoy motherhood rather than constantly question it.

I’m glad I learned this lesson before I was diagnosed. Throughout my cancer journey, I never asked “why me?”. This was my life journey. I was handed these cards and it was for me to own. What may be bad in my life may pale in comparison to someone else’s life. It isn’t my place to ask “why me?”.

Whenever I go to MD Anderson and see all the people there, I always wonder what is there journey. Were they there for the first time, feeling scared and anxious? Or perhaps they have been in remission for years and just doing a follow-up. Maybe they are in the middle of their treatment and feeling emotionally drained. They all have their own story.

While cancer robbed me of so many things—my hair, my time with my family and friends, my health, just to name a few—it changed my outlook in life for the better. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I stop and try to appreciate the simple things in life. I’m more certain than ever that I married the best man in the world. I appreciate my parents even more. I would have never learned this if it wasn’t for cancer.

No Mo’ Chemo!

I had my sixth and last round of chemo on April 5. Four months have flown by, my healthy baby is here, I am in remission, and all that stands ahead of me is completing my radiation treatment.

Chemo #6

I was in a extra good mood the day of my last chemo treatment. I was so pumped to be done soon! Because I’ve had so many IVs in the last four months, there’s not many places left on my arms for nurses to easily find a new IV spot. I absolutely hate being poked with the huge IV needle, but because I was in such a good mood that day I didn’t even care it took 3 tries for them to find a good vein. The chemo infusion was otherwise uneventful which is the best I can hope for.

Ringing the Bell

A tradition in the cancer world is to ring a bell when you’re done with treatment. I’ve been looking forward to this day since the beginning. Once I was done with chemo, the nurses walked me down to the bell and cheered me on as I rang it. I absolutely hate crying in front of people and had to try really hard to fight back tears.

Ringing the bell! Done with chemo!

The End… and the Start of a New Beginning

A few days prior to my last chemo, I had a sudden rush of anxiety. I had been so excited about my last chemo session before and looking forward to this day. Why the sudden anxiety? Maybe it was postpartum hormones. I should be happy and excited about finishing chemo.

I talked to one of my nurses and also a social worker at MD Anderson. They told me it was entirely normal for cancer patients to feel anxious or worried towards the end of treatment. They both stressed that I’m entitled to feel the way I feel. I shouldn’t feel bad if I have negative feelings; just acknowledge it rather than feel ashamed or embarrassed. All our lives we are taught we must be happy and we shouldn’t be sad. It’s actually totally okay to feel negative emotions.

As silly as it may sound, I approached my cancer treatment like I do with my fitness stuff (I am a fitness instructor). I am laser focused towards achieving some sort of goal. Just like I did for triathlons, half-marathon, fitness instructor trainings, fitness certifications, or learning new choreography for teaching a class, I methodically laid out things I must do to complete my goal. For cancer treatment, it was drinking plenty of water, walking daily, doing strength training, drinking teas/juices, sleeping enough, detoxing, etc. I focused on this everyday to achieve my end goal of completing chemotherapy. This tunnel vision kept me laser focused and probably numbed my emotions temporarily so I could keep going everyday.

People often tell me how strong I’ve been. The truth is, it has flown by and I didn’t have much time to think about what was happening while it was happening. Now that it’s starting to come to an end, it’s starting to sink in. I’m sitting here thinking, “wow, I did that” and I have this healthy baby in front of me.