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“Pa’lante!” – Hurray for the Riff Raff

During surgery to remove cancer, a tracer is injected into the patient.  This tracer will travel the likely path of any cancer cells, clinging to those cells as they are encountered.  Afterwards, a dye is injected, turning the tracer blue. This makes visible to the naked eye any cancerous cells that have reacted with the tracer.  Think of the tracer as a ‘scout’ traveling a winding path, signaling back to the dye as to where to go.

On May 22, Angelica will be operated on in an attempt to remove the cancerous tissue and any other tissue that runs the greatest risk of becoming cancerous.  The procedure will also help the doctors confirm whether or not the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in Angie’s right arm. If cancer is found, those nodes are removed, which could possibly lead to other health issues in the future, like lymphedema.  After all the cancer is removed, a plastic surgeon will immediately step in to begin reconstruction. The whole process that day will take several hours, resulting in an overnight stay and hopefully a clean bill of health.

When Angie and I began this blog, it was intended as a means to keep everyone up-to-date with Angie’s progress without being overwhelmed by texts and calls.  We also wanted to show everyone the empowering nature of music. Now, as we move forward with the fight, it becomes more obvious to me why it’s important to document and discuss the horrors of breast cancer:

For those who WILL fight.

Recent statistics predict that one out of every eight women run a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.  There will be over 200,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer this year alone. That could be someone in your family, someone at your job, or even a childhood friend you’ve known since 2nd grade.  As unfortunate as it is to receive positive test results for breast cancer, we’re fortunately not the first ones. Angie’s grandmother, as well as my aunt, and my coworkers’ wife, have all been down this road before.  They all stand along the edge of this dismal and worn path, holding up their lamps of experience. It’s dark and we’re unsure of where we are going, but because others have been here before, they help guide us.

That’s why we should talk about it.  That is why we share our experience; It can help those that come after us.  Because we share our own fight with others, the childhood friend I’ve known since 2nd grade knew where to turn when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, just days after Angie completed her chemotherapy.  Not only can Angie and I offer her gleams of light, but we can share with her everything we’ve learned, which means we can share everything Angie’s grandmother, my aunt, and my coworker’s wife have learned.

I’m not saying that we’re saving a life, but I will say that it’s a lot easier to go down a dark road when someone who has been there is saying to you, “forward!”

This responsibility to others hasn’t escaped Angie.  She’s merely halfway through her battle, yet here she stands, lantern in hand, signaling back for others to keep moving forward.  

The coming week will be a busy one.  We have three different prep-op appointments on Tuesday alone.  We’ll be seeing Tank and the Bangas in concert on Thursday, and Margo Price on Saturday. On Friday, Angie will be fitted for post-op clothing, the kind that is comfortable and functional for mastectomy recipients during recovery.  

Concerts really are a great way to occupy time between appointments and/or side effects.  A couple Thursdays ago we made a last-minute decision to see Hurray For The Riff Raff, but only after debating for an hour whether or not Angie could see them perform.  A week after that, it was The National at the amphitheater. The energy and sounds of a live show seem to help release Angie from any mounting stress and anxieties of what lies ahead.  It isn’t written in her treatment plan, but we both know damn well it could be.

New Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1215796657/playlist/1NxuDeR9SgO8zMFHepu5x1

Live In All Shows

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“I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you.”- Bill Withers

Angie was telling me about the places she wants to see and the things she wants to do when she is cancer-free. A trip to Maine to “eat the freshest lobster” and a visit to Quebec are the two big roadside attractions she seemed to be most excited about. It’s not the first time she’s talked about both of these destinations, she is always telling me how much I would love to visit the coast of Maine, and I’ve heard her talk about her summers in Quebec when she was growing up.  I married an amateur travel agent, Angie loves to plan trips.

As she describes the trip in detail, I can’t help but look at her hands. A Taxol rash formed on both her hands. She compares the coming-and-going pain in her hands to the “stings of fire ants.” Finally, she has been able to relate her pain to me in a way I understand. I’ve been attacked by fire ants, so I can understand exactly what she is going through in this instance, something I haven’t been able to do this entire time. Her nails have begun to deteriorate, as well. With that comes more pain and discomfort.

With all that in mind, it amazes me that Angie mustered up the strength and energy to spend all last week with her aunt and godson, as well as Rich and cousin Samaira. Aunt Marie joined Angie during her chemo treatment that week. I honestly believe that is the real reason they all drove down here. That doesn’t mean that was ALL they did while they were down here. When the Springfield family comes to town, Angie makes sure a good time is had by all. After a week worth of late night card games, swinging clubs at TopGolf, and walks in the park, I wasn’t surprised when Angie hit a wall last weekend. A mini-hibernation to recharge her ailing body. It was worth it for her, I’m sure. I know I’ll miss having them around.

Taxol treatment 11 of 12 was scheduled for this morning. During the ride to the medical center, Sylvan Esso was coming in through the speakers with the “PARAD(w/m)E” song. I thought about the music video for that song, where people are dancing through a deserted town and then ransack an abandoned gas station. It reminded me of Angie’s family last week. No, I’m not comparing the in-laws to criminals. But, the way those people in the music video appear carefree as they dance through a post-apocalyptic world is a mirror image of how Angie and her family spend their time together despite Angie’s current illness. No matter how bad things may seem, it’s good to take time to enjoy the things we love.

When the oncologist took a look at Angie’s hands this morning, he made the decision to stop chemotherapy immediately. He said the final two treatments would’ve caused permanent nerve damage and skin discoloration. Angie said that wouldn’t have worked for her because she wants a “nice, even brown all over.” So, just like that, Angie has concluded her chemo!! She looked shocked, and the nurses looked disappointed, they absolutely love having Angie around. I cried. I cried like a big, happy baby. I know this isn’t the end of cancer, but this is a huge stage in our lives that is behind us. I am grateful for that, and incredibly proud of my wife for getting through it. The nurses said it was very rare they see someone make it through 10 doses of Taxol, another testament to Angelica’s strength.

On our way out of the cancer center, Angie asked out loud, “Should I ask the doctor if I can go back to shooting news?” She looked at her hands and decided that she wasn’t ready, yet. Well, her body isn’t ready. I know she misses carrying that camera and telling stories. She doesn’t feel fulfilled at work when she isn’t out in the field, but she is extremely grateful to be able to work. She enjoys shooting news, and the people she works with. They’ve all been very supportive the past 5 months. Just two weekends ago, a band formed by her coworkers turned their tip jar into a collection for Angie’s medical expenses, a gesture we will never forget.

At this point, Angie still has many trips to Midtown ahead of her. The one trip we’re focusing on right now is her surgery date, TBD. We think it’ll happen in about 4 weeks. In the meantime, Angie wants to get away for a weekend camping trip. It’ll be good for us to reset our souls after the past few months. Angelica and I both agree the Gulf would be nice this time of year. Angie has already looked at a few state parks that let folks camp close to the beach (of course), plus it’s only a 7 hour drive to the shore from Nashville.  It’s good to see the travel agent is back to work.

 Click Here For New Playlist

 

Better Than Most

IMG_3306“After Winter, must come Spring.  Change, it comes eventually.”  – Lauren Hill  

Please excuse the frequency of updates to this blog.  We’ve been slowly adjusting to the weekly treatments, and we’re beginning to accept it as our “normal”.  Today, Angie tackled her 5th Taxol treatment.  Doctor Rogers has set the goal between eight and twelve treatments.  The determining factor as to wether or not Angie makes it to 12 treatments lies within her own fingertips.  

The winter we have endured is almost over.  The Bradford Pear trees that shedded their leaves on the same day Angie was diagnosed have begun to bloom.  The past month as been riddled with exhaustion, friends, family and plenty of rest.  The Taxol treatment still takes a physical toll on Angie, but the side effects are nowhere near as serious as her previous treatment.  Because of this, Angie is making it to work far more frequently, even managing to squeeze in full shifts once or twice.  I have noticed she is capable of spending several hours out and about before her body begins to tire.  We managed to make it to our first concert since treatment began.  Zephaniah Ohora  played a free set at the Nashville Palace in February, and we were able to attend with Sky and Natalie (who stumbled upon a nice table with four seats in the back of the room).  Zep even took time to autograph a record for Angie; a huge victory for our beautiful cancer avenger.  

When this process began, we found ourselves unsure of what lied ahead.  We knew our lives would change, but we didn’t exactly know how.  As surreal as it has been, we have found ourselves adapting to the change(s).  The daily medication is now normal.  The unexpected stomach issue is now normal.  The sudden fatigue is now normal.  Spending Valentine’s Day in a plastic surgeon office staring at photos of other women’s breasts is now normal.  Cancer normal.  We’ve accepted all of this as a regular part of our lives because we know the alternative to chemotherapy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if my wife is tough enough to make all 12 weeks of Taxol.  The drug causes a tingling sensation in her fingers.  The severity of this peripheral neuropathy will ultimately determine how far Angie can make it into the treatment.  If the sensation becomes too painful in her fingers and/or toes, the treatment stops immediately to avoid permenant nerve damage.  There’s no need to create more damage than the cancer has already caused.  This new side effect has changed the way Angie functions, but ever so slightly.    The Taxol also attacks the dividing cells that form her fingernails. So, bottle caps, cans, shampoo lids, sealed bags of food, and tabs of Benadryl are nearly impossible for Angie to open.  I’ve tried to get in the habit of leaving caps and lids open in the bathroom, so Angie can operate uninterrupted in the mornings.  I’d imagine losing a fingernail can be painful, so it’s important to make sure Angie doesn’t apply too much pressure to her finger tips during the next 2 months.

All of this is becoming far less abnormal.  Still, I welcome the days when we can go about our lives without having to schedule oncology appointments.  I miss the mornings when I wake up and know my wife is well, instead of waiting to see if she has the strength to get out of bed.  And, despite her ability to make bald look sexy, I miss her beautiful head of hair.  

Angie has been accused of bringing a lightheartedness to the treatment center.  The doctor refers to this ability as “spunk”, something he says escapes many chemo recipients.  I felt reassured that all of this has an end in sight as Dr. Rogers walked out of the exam room this morning.  With one foot out the door, he turned to Angie and reminded her of one thing:

“You’re doing better than most.”

A Letter to My Wife

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“I can’t go back.  And I don’t want to.  ‘Cause all my mistakes, they brought me to you.” – The Avett Brothers

Angelica,

Next week will mark the anniversary of the first time we ever made contact with each other, talking on the phone for 2 hours the night before my job interview at your news station.  The first time I saw you during my first week at WPDE, I began falling for you.  We never knew what would be in store for us: maybe a wedding, maybe a child of our own. Never did we think cancer.

Though, not nearly as serious as cancer, you’ve been there for me through my times of illness and pain; which is no easy task because I know I become a giant-sized baby when I’m sick or down.  Your compassion doesn’t start and end with me.  You’ve always taken the time and made the effort to help your family, my family, our friends, and the strangers you meet.  The world is much better with you here.

The weeks of February are now special to me because it was this time of year in 2008 that began the series of events that lead me to you.  It was a move meant to boost my career, but ended up being the move that changed my life.  Almost 10 years later, here we are, fighting a life-threatening disease, but still together, nonetheless.  Many people would’ve tapped out at the first sign of cancer.  But you and I, we’re not easily tripped up. What we have can’t be snuffed by illness, injury or conflict.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want this happening to you. Still, I am grateful for this chance to demonstrate my dedication to you, and my belief in your unshakeable abilities to stomach the hardships you face, just as you’ve done for many others.   

You may feel weak, but you are still my rock.  You may feel tired, but you’re still my incitation.  You may feel discouraged, but you are still my inspiration.  You may feel loved, and that’s because you are.   

So today, we’ll celebrate your endurance, your vitality, and your ability to touch other lives.  We’ll celebrate ten years of you and I being a part of each other’s lives.  And, we’ll celebrate the amazing progress you’ve made during your two months of treatment.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Angelica.  I’ll love you forever.   

New Playlist:  

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1215796657/playlist/5jqzYeYWtb7r8AYw4r2Cv1

Progress Report: Tumors and Floors

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“Friends come in handy, but family is family.” – Kacey Musgraves

Angie’s fourth and recent chemotherapy session was earlier last week.  There were many things that stood out to me during this visit.  But, instead of focusing on the fact that we had the entire chemo room to ourselves, or the fact that we were accompanied by Angie’s sister during this go-round, I will quickly mention the amazing progress Angie has made.  During examination, Dr. Rodgers had trouble locating the largest tumor in Angie’s chest.  So, yes, the tumor has shrunk!!  I can only assume this is due to the regimen Angie has endured for six weeks, along with her ability to adapt and endure.  The doctor is very impressed.  All of a sudden, I remember why we’re doing what we’re doing.  The long nights, the sickness, the chemicals, the missed work days, it’s all a lot to take in, but it’s working.  

So, as you can tell by now, we were blessed with the arrival of Angie’s only sister last week.  Melanie came to town in a show of support for her older sister.  Melanie was officially our first overnight house guest in our new home.  In order for that to happen we had to finished painting and flooring the guest bedroom before Melanie’s arrival.  We managed to get it all finished the night before Melanie flew in.  Her days spent here were laid back because Melanie was enjoying some downtime from her life as a mother of two.  All the moms out there understand; watch TV in peace, eat a meal in peace, sleep in peace.  Angie’s fatigue and nausea have kept her in bed for the majority of the past 3 weeks, so it was a challenge to get out and about so we could show Melanie around town.

Fortunately, we were able to make it to Opry Mills, where we pushed Angie around in a wheelchair.  It actually made it possible for her to enjoy time away from the house without overexerting herself.  Melanie was easily distracted while shopping. She would randomly take her hands off the chair, discarding Angie wherever the chair stopped.  Sometimes I found Angie sitting quietly in the corner, facing the wall.  There was another time I found Angie pushed up into a rack of clothes, only to see her sister sorting through a sales rack 20 feet away.   

By the time Monday morning rolled around, it was easy to see the impact Melanie was having on Angie.  Even with her regular symptoms, Angie was able to stay awake and alert longer in order to maximize time spent with Melanie.  It was a nice time.  Melanie’s departure from Nashville sunk Angie back into a funk.  But, she remains ambitious.  There have been nights where she’s confident  that she will go into work the next morning, or she’ll make it to the Zephaniah show, only to be thwarted by the side effects of her treatment.  

Even with the good news on the decreased tumor size, we know there is still plenty of road to tread.  Angie’s next chemo session will mark the beginning of the 2nd phase of her battle.  She will receive chemotherapy once a week for the next three months leading up to her mastectomy.  That’s going to be a lot to take on, but I’m sure Angie will push right through it just as she’s done so far.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1215796657/playlist/0rmlyZHfUvvn1GjKwrCawp

The Good Days

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“Storms never last, do they baby.  Bad times all pass with the wind.” – Waylon Jennings

When growing up in western Massachusetts, Angie had a series of encounters with one song that I’ve learned to love.  She swears that every single time this particular song came on the radio, she found herself inside a moving vehicle while a bad storm was passing through.  To many people, this may not seem like any reason to have disdain for any type of music or song, but when Angie frantically describes these storms to me, I can see why such a young kid would retain those emotions and associate them with one specific song.    

THIS is the reason I can’t listen to “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors when Angie and I are both in the car; it stirs up her old emotions and memories of those thunderstorms.

“Two Princes” isn’t a bad song.  It’s upbeat, uplifting and it makes me feel good when I hear it.  But, the heavy downpour, loud thunderclaps, and flashes of lightning associated with a storm have turned the Spin Doctors’ tune from a neutral stimulus to a conditioned one, leaving Angie with an emotional response similar to the distress of a young girl stuck in a storm.

Angie managed to make it to work for most of last week.  Of course, there was a day mixed in there where she couldn’t find the strength or stomach to leave the house, but that’s just how this whole process seems to go.  One day may be a good day, but the next day could easily be shitty.  And so I’ve learned that’s just the way this thing is gonna go.  So, we take the good days with the bad.

We’re one whole month into treatment, and Angie just wrapped up her third round of chemo.  We had to drive through the snow to get to the cancer center.  In the car ride Angie was wishing she had rescheduled the treatment for the next day so she could “have one more day of feeling normal.” If the past two treatments are any indicator of what’s to come, then we can expect the next few days to be a little rough.  The drugs included in Angie’s chemo cocktail have a series of side effects that make the following week harder to deal.

Take Doxorubicin, for example.  It’s commonly used for several types of cancer, including breast cancer.  After Angie receives Taxol (among other drugs) she experiences hair loss (duh), nausea and vomiting, mouth sores, and hypersensitivity reaction.  Imagine waking up one morning and feeling hungry, but you can’t eat because you’re nauseous.  If you can eat, you’re wary because your mouth is sore.  Throw in shortness of breath and a fever, next thing you know you’re having yourself a bad day.  Sometimes these days are the ones where Angie’s determination is tested.   

The 2nd weekend of January was a good weekend.  Angie woke up Saturday morning with no pains or uncomfortable sensations.  Her appetite was intact, no fevers, no fatigue.  We worked on the house, we did laundry, we went out to watch the NFL playoffs, and we shared meals with family.  It was a good weekend.  

So, now I’m wondering what it is I should be focusing on, the good days or the bad. When all of this is said and done, what am I going to choose to recall?  Will I look back and think of all the horrible days or will I look back and think about those good days peppered in between the bad ones?  Will I remember the dry heaves, the hair loss, and the pain?  Or will I choose to enshrine the days that glowed with victory and wellbeing?  I could look back on 2018 and say to myself, “Jesus, Angie fought cancer that year and it was terrible!”  Or, I can look back on 2018 and say, “It was a great year because when there were good days to be had, we took them.”

Don’t get me wrong; this whole experience has plenty of ugly moments.  Whenever someone thinks about cancer, of course the first thing that comes to mind is the negative. How could we not?  But, I’ve learned that we just have to focus on those morsels of good that eventually appear. Hopefully, when the fatigue sets in again, and the fever flares up, and the food won’t stay down, Angie will remember that she is just riding through a storm, and storms never last.

New Playlist:

The Transmutation of Sufjan Stevens

sink hair“Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? “ – Stevie Nicks

 Almost three years ago Angie and I made a road trip up to Indianapolis during the weekend of Record Store Day. We had tickets to see Sufjan Stevens perform at the Murat Theatre, which still remains one of my favorite venues to this day. It was the best Record Store Day we’ve participated in. We spent the day standing in line at a local Indianapolis store to pick up new releases, and we wrapped it up with an amazing concert. Since then, listening to the music of Sufjan brought back memories of that trip

Last Tuesday Angie went in for second round of chemotherapy. Unlike the first visit, the nurses pumped Benadryl into Angie’s system quickly, and she passed out within 30 minutes and slept through the entire session. The needle was inserted into the port with very little discomfort, and Dr. Rodgers felt good about Angie’s blood cell count. It was a near-perfect chemo session, if there is such a thing.

Two nights later, I was sleeping soundly when I heard a voice.

“Cam?” It was Angie standing over me at 2 A.M. in the morning. “Can you come to the bathroom,” she asked of me? As I stood up, I could hear music playing. It was coming from the bathroom, where I found a sink filled with a football-sized clumping of hair. Angie’s face was grief-stricken. She had been standing over the sink for a while just shaking the hair from her head. She felt lonely, even with the music playing, so she woke me up to be with her as her hair continued to fall out.

I haven’t asked her why she was listening to Sufjan Stevens while all this was happening. His music is calming. His voice is soft. Maybe she found comfort in that. Maybe it brought back memories of a better time and place, like that one weekend in Indy. Nonetheless, for me, the music couldn’t possibly distract me from the hurt that my wife was experiencing at that hour.

But then the lyrics began to break through my confusion and stress:

I drove to New York

In a van, with my friend

We slept in parking lots

I don’t mind, I don’t mind

 This song, according to Sufjan, is about a trip he made when he was 19 years old. He and a few friends took a weekend trip to Chicago to get away from school and they managed to survive with only $20 in their pocket. Suddenly, I was struck with the urge to grab Angie’s hand, jump in the car and drive off, leaving behind her pains, her discomforts, and this terrible fucking disease. Of course, we can’t do such. Treating cancer isn’t as easy as packing up and running away. There aren’t many problems that can be solved in such a manner.

So, there we were in the early hours of the morning, watching significant physical changes take place right before our eyes.   Angie’s new haircut lasted about a week before the chemotherapy took it away. As the sink filled up with hair, and my wife sulked in the mirror, I am reminded by Sufjan that “all things grow.” I hope Angie doesn’t forget this particular change is not a permanent one. I’m confident in her ability to accept what she cannot control so that she can continue forward.

After the hair settled and I cleaned the sink, we both went back to bed. I reminded myself of a question I asked Angie last month pertaining to songs taking on new meaning after being diagnosed with cancer. Next time I hear the music of Sufjan Stevens, the first thing I think of won’t be our trip to Indianapolis; it will be the memory of the ache on Angie’s face as she began to realize the cold reality of this unwelcome disease and it’s constantly changing tides.

Playlist: