Friday, January 29, 2010


This weekend, I've chatted with several friends for the first time in a few weeks. After talking with me for some time, each of them told me that they were truly surprised how strong and happy I sounded. They also told me it might be helpful to give a status update on my overall health and state-of-mind because they'd been under the impression I was spending most of my time sleeping or depressed.

On the contrary, friends!

Go ahead: Call! Visit! I'm doing okay! Sure, I've got more help now than I ever had in my life, but still. I'm driving, I'm running errands, I'm picking up my children and throwing them around. I have a semi-healthy glow to me, or as good as you can look in Seattle on Feb 1.

I'm writing this not to brag about my fortitude or good looks, but rather to let you all know, in case you are wondering, that I honestly feel really healthy and normal. The chemo has NOT been hard on me (I'm lucky. I guess I have good genes. Oh wait, no I don't.) I'm not nauseous, I'm not particularly tired. I am definitely not wasting away, shivering, under a blanket. I'm even going to start swimming again on Monday. If I hadn't published this blog and alerted the world about my "health issue", I don't think you'd even know anything was awry.

On top of that, I'm in good spirits. We've gotten several really positive stories lately of people in my EXACT same boat, here in Seattle, some even worse off than me, who are thriving now. My plan is to join that group, and soon. Why shouldn't I? In the meantime, just rest assured that I'm here, I'm doing all right, and I'm as feisty as ever.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Just wanted to report that it's Thursday, and my hair is alive and well (in other words, still firmly attached). YEEHAW.

In fact, there's TOO MUCH OF IT. I was supposed to get it cut and highlighted in late November, but. Alas. Now I look like Robert Plant, circa '73.

And that's just fine with me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I just need to get some things off my chest.

I cannot possibly keep up with thanking all of you for being so supportive and kind and helpful and generous to me and my family. My attitude is one of pure gratitude. It's Gr-Attitude. It's no Baditude.

Honestly. I am the type of person whom feels it's very important to acknowledge kindnesses. I am a thank-you-note-sender. I am kind of a thank-you-note-snob, actually, just ask my sister. That's a different story. The point is, your inundation of kind actions is causing me to get so backed up in my acknowledgements that it's causing me some consternation. PLEASE KNOW that my pithy, two sentence email of thanks WOULD SO MUCH RATHER BE a cute, embossed note full of thoughtful reflection. I am sure that 90% of you could care less, but to me, that sort of thing is a big deal. And you can imagine how CRAPPY I feel when I wake up in the night and realize, "OH MY GOSH, AUNT SUSIE SENT ME A CRATE OF ORANGES THREE DAYS AGO AND I DID NOT EVEN LET HER KNOW THEY ARRIVED SAFELY, ALL NESTLED IN THEIR CARDBOARD SLEEVES!"

So please know: I LOVE your notes, your hand-knit scarves, your bracelets, your fruit, your cookies, your flowers, your jeans, your tee shirts, your stuffed animal intestines, your lotions and products, your ice cream, your Journey concert tee shirts, your banana bread, your books, your movies, your music, your chocolate, your freaking delicious meals, your playing cards, your tee shirts, your cleaning services, your notecards, your tea, your jammies that actually fit my daddy longlegs, your advice, your rustic cross, your wrought iron bird, your photography skills, your rides for my kids, your... your...

Most of all, I love YOU, and I am so grateful for having such nice people in my life.

I sound like I am accepting a Golden Globe.

If there is ANYTHING good about this experience, it's that I get to know that I am loved. That I have become friends with some truly remarkable people. Some folks might never really that find out 'til it's too late. Me, I get to have a "This is Your Life" -show every week. The circumstances STINK, but the end result is still pretty remarkable. Am I making anyone barf here? Do I sound like Pollyanna?

In the Shell of a nut: THANK YOU!

p.s.--Please let me know if I have your Tupperware. I swear I am not trying to "come out ahead" in this deal.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Extreme Life Makeover

I don't want to jinx myself, but I gotta say: The second round of chemo was kind of no big deal. I wasn't nauseous, I didn't feel exhausted, I didn't lose my appetite, I didn't feel sad.

Isn't that peculiar? I don't feel sick. I actually feel pretty normal. It doesn't seem to add up. If I didn't know any better, I would think I was in great health!

The other day, I imagined I wasn't really sick, but instead I was actually involved in some sort of elaborate hoax.

Imagine if I were selected to be the unwitting star on a game show of sorts, like "Extreme Home Makeover", except maybe more like, "Extreme Life Makeover". Imagine if Neil sent in a video submission on my behalf, where he said something like, "Ty, my wife needs to start over. She's overwhelmed with housework and kids, and she seems to have lost a bit of her former joie de vivre. Let's SHAKE THINGS UP FOR HER!"

Then the wheels would be set in motion. Per the producer's instructions, Neil feeds me something that makes my "stomach hurt" and I go into the doctor. They give me "a colonoscopy" (not really) and say "You gotta have surgery!" (what do I know? I'm drugged!) Then they "do major surgery", and they use some very advanced makeup techniques on my abdomen to make it appear like I have a "major wound". This incredible makeup (designed no doubt by an Oscar-winning makeup artist) slowly morphs into something much more benign over time, giving the effect of "healing". They dope me up. They tell me "Here's your diagnosis!", and "You need to start chemo!" Then I go in and get (placebo) chemo.

BUT: their plan is working! Nothing has ever adjusted my perspective like this experience. Now I sit here, pondering everything I've ever done, feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the people in my life, feeling a steely resolve to fight and be here for the people who need me, vowing not to let the stupid stuff in life (and most of it really is stupid stuff) bother me, ready to move on in an 150% more dynamic form I used to be.

Then at some point, all the "doctors" (really, paid actors) would rush in the room and the balloons would fall and Neil would run in with my family and all of you who have brought me dinners and written me cards, and we'd all drink champagne and laugh and I'd be in awe, trying to crack how they did it-- "So, wait, were those even my x-rays? THEY WEREN'T? AWWW! YOU GUYS!!"

The only unrealistic part of the above scenario (the ONLY unrealistic part) is that I never really took the happy stuff of my life for granted before. So I don't feel like I have a big "lesson coming my way". Regardless, I can honestly say, I've already learned a lot from this. I won't bother writing down my learnings at this point, because it will sound like a bad voiceover at the end of a Meg Ryan film.

But trust me, there are moments now where I feel downright WISE. (Lucrative book deal to follow.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Will I lose my hair? The hourglass is almost empty...

Some chemos make you lose your hair. It's a given.

With others, nope.

But will I? My chemo is called "Folfox". My doc says I can expect to lose my hair. But all the very knowledgeable chemo nurses seem to think I won't. That it will just thin out. Which I can handle, because as Grandma Yark always told me as a child, "Honestly, Shelly, you have enough hair for three people." So I can deal with a few holes here and there... and just think of the money I'll save on shampoo.

Thing is, IF I will lose my hair, it's supposed to happen around 19-21 days after my first chemo. Which puts me at early next week! By Wednesday, at the latest, I'll know if my fate is to be a cue ball or to remain a flaxen-haired goddess.

I just want to add at this point, that my wonderful cousin, Jen Yark Beaudoin, whom resembles me in many strange ways, including the fact that we more or less have the exact same hair, has offered to CUT OFF 10 INCHES OF HER HAIR AT A MOMENT'S NOTICE NEXT WEEK AND SEND IT TO SEATTLE SO I CAN HAVE A WIG CONSTRUCTED FROM OUR REAL HAIR.

Now THAT'S love.

Keep posted and I'll let you know if it starts falling off in clumps.

If so, please send alcohol and chocolate, preferably Cadbury Mini-Eggs.

My situation, in summary

In case you aren't aware of what's going on with me, here's the short version. Or, at least, as short as Shelly is capable of writing.

In December, after a colonoscopy showed some scar tissue and atypical biopsies, I learned I had cancer in my colon. In a matter of days, I was sent to Swedish Hospital for a major surgery to remove the mass. On Dec 10, 2009, they performed a "partial colecotomy" and removed the tumor as well as 4 cancerous lymph nodes. (They also removed a bunch of other surrounding colon and nodes but all that proved to be cancer-free.)

It was an asskicker of a surgery. They say it takes 6-8 weeks to heal from it, and even longer for some internal functions to return to normal. (For some reason, I got cocky. I figured, if anyone could, I COULD heal in maybe 3 weeks, tops. Be back in the pool by MLK Day.) I was flat on my back in the hospital for a week, doped up. Then I came home and really spent the next 4 weeks doing mostly nothing, just healing. My 12-inch scar slowly started to flatten out and shrink down nicely. I started to get energy back.

A follow-up PET scan showed no more cancer in my colon (HURRAH!) but one small spot in my liver and one small-ish spot in my left lower lung. This is not what you want to hear. It means the cancer is now considered "stage 4 colon cancer." Even though these spots are in different organs, they are still considered "colon cancer".

SO! I am now on chemotherapy at the Swedish Cancer Institute. My doctor is the renowned Dr. Henry Kaplan, and he is awesome so far. Today I just finished up my second chemo, and so far, so good. I've got a ton going for me, among which is my young age, my otherwise great health, my humongous support team (you!), and my positive attitude. For more info on the first chemo experience, please see my first post. It's way more interesting than this one.

I will do chemo every other week, on Thursdays. Next session, they will be adding the wonderdrug, "Avastan" which blocks blood flow to tumors. In other words, it KICKS THE TUMOR'S ASS AND SENDS IT BACK TO THE DEPTHS OF HELL FROM WHENCE IT CAME. (On a side note, who invents these drugs like Avastan, and how can I get their contact info? I would like to clean their homes or mow their lawns or something. I am serious.)

Next steps:
Two more chemo sessions. Then, a scan, to see what good we've done thus far, how much the two spots have shrunk, and then we'll know how long I can expect to be on chemo.

That's all I know for now, but I'll update you when I have more exciting cancer news to share!
xo, S

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Make mine a "fat"

It's a strange position to be in, when you're trying to take every little step you can to GAIN weight. "Load on the butter, please!" "Can you make that with extra cheese?" "I don't need a dish, just hand me the entire pint. And a big spoon." I feel like I'm gorging myself, like that man in the movie, "Seven", who is forced to eat in order to embody the deadly sin, "sloth."

On Monday, while Neil waited outside with the kids, I went into Starbucks. I got in line behind 3 other moms, surrounded by their pile of wily kids.

The barista turned to me. "Can I get a drink started for ya?"

I hadn't really had time to figure out what I actually felt like drinking (my tastes are a little "off" these days). So I went on autopilot:

"Yeah, hi! Um, I'll have a chai tea. How 'bout a grande, nonfa---. Oh wait. Wait. NOT nonfat. Make it fat! Make it extra fatty. So like, with whole milk?"

She nodded and started to walk away. I yelled over the heads of the 3 moms in front of me, "Or, just make it with whatever you have that's most fattening. Really load it up!"

She replied back, over the heads of the young moms, "If you want it fattening, I could make it like a breve?"

Me, loudly: "What's that?"

"Made with cream?"

Me, loudly and extra excitedly: "Oh yeah! Perfect! Make it with heavy cream! Nice and fattening! DO IT UP!"

She went off to make it, and I stood there. I realized I was being stared at disdainfully by the moms. Through sleep-deprived eyes, they shot daggers at poor Miss 5' 10", in her skinny cords, who needed the world to know she was simply dying for a fattening drink.

To smooth things over, and so they'd know I was actually one of them, I explained, "See, I'm just really trying to GAIN weight....Just... really hoping to PACK IT ON here....Trying!"

One of them snorted and turned away.

Man, this cancer is really turning me into a BITCH.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

1st Chemo Update

This first post is a direct lift from an email I sent out after my first round of chemo. Rather than summing it up all over again, I thought I'd just cut-and-paste. You may have already read this one. So here it is, grammatical errors and all:

I know, I know! "What an uplifting subject line!" You don't have to read this if you don't want, but I thought I'd share my first experience with you. It's not sad, don't worry! (although there is a little crying in the beginning).

Just wanted to tell you how i am doing. the short answer is, so far so good.

At 5 a.m. on Friday, January 8th , I had to go in for a quick surgery where they installed a "port" into my upper right chest. It's basically like a small round metal disk that they bury under my skin just below the clavicle bone. it hooks internally right into my jugular vein, which is like as fat as a carrot. (who knew?) (by the way, I am glad none of us are doctors or you would probably be laughing at my elementary descriptions of body parts). the point of having a "port" is that every time they need to stick you with a needle (like for giving blood, or for getting chemotherapy treatments), they can access you from this port, in other words, stick the needle into this port, rather than finding a vein on your arm all the time. So i don't look like some strung-out junkie in an alley!

After I woke up from the surgery, i went over to the cancer institute, where they give chemo. Now i won't lie to you. I was doing a-ok til i saw the big double doors that said "cancer institute" and saw all the patients inside waiting to get their chemo treatments. I stopped dead in my tracks outside the door and refused to go in. i did not want any relationship with a place like this! i am not a sick person! places like that are for old people! i just want to go home and listen to some records and drink some coke! get me out of here, neil! so then i started to cry, cry like a baby, right there outside the elevators. neil whisked me off to the other side of the lobby by the window and hugged me and i cried til his tee shirt was covered with snot and tears. Then we went in. everyone in a cancer center is nice. they are so nice, it's crazy. nice like Grandma Yark nice.

i still cried for a while while i was sitting there, waiting to be seen. neil kept telling me (he is so wise), "this is good! this is the first time in this whole process we are on the OFFENSIVE. this is the first step to killing this stuff!" I still cried. And there was a woman sitting next to me, and she was reading a book OUT LOUD to the handicapped person next to her, and she finally stopped and asked everyone in the room, "oh, i'm sorry. I just realized that i'm reading out loud and this might be annoying. Am I bothering any of you?" and I instantly replied, "WELL, YOU'RE MAKING ME CRY."

(it was a bad joke)

So then they took us back. Along the way, they showed us the snack room (full of fresh sandwiches, fruits, puddings, drinks!) for all of us. Then they took me to my room. It's all very open, everyone else in there (patients included) seem so at ease with it all. You could definitely tell I was new to it all. Still resisting it. Others were high-fiving the nurses and hugging and smiling. I was like, "don't you people realize where we are? why are you all so happy!?"

The nurse explained everything she was going to do, and i continued to cry and snot. Here's the thing, though. It was super-easy. I just sat in a chair, Neil at my side, and they put an IV into my port. There were a series of about 5 medicines, each on in its own separate bag, and they gave them to me one by one. So the whole thing took 3.5 hours. The first bag was a vitamin. Then a steroid. Then some chemo medicine. Then two others. None of them hurt of made me feel badly or sick or funny at all. In fact, the steroid made me feel really great. And one of the others made me sleepy, so i even took a nap. We watched "They Royal Tenenbaums". Then it was time to go. They sent me home with one final medicine. It's called an "infuser". Which means, it's a medicine that I get over 48 hours, slowly, hooked into my port.

It's actually kind of funny. People who have to take some medicine home with them usually have to wear it in a black fanny pack. They told me, "so you'll get this fanny pack and you'll wear it for two days, then you come back in in 48 hours and we remove it. " And the only thing i could think to reply with was, "WAIT. YOU ARE TELLING ME I HAVE TO WEAR A BLACK FANNY PACK FOR TWO STRAIGHT DAYS, TWICE A MONTH?" Intolerable dorkiness. BUT, luckily, my infuser is just a plastic tube that hangs down inside my pantleg. And it's also kind of funny because it is shaped like a long thin tube, just inside my inseam, so when it sticks out, it looks like I am trying to play some sort of dirty joke. Something a gross guy would do.

The infuser runs out of medicine in 48 hours. Then i get it taken off, and I am free to live my life normally til 2 weeks later, when I do it all again. So here's my schedule: Chemo on Thursday morning for several hours. Go home. Get infuser removed on Saturday. Repeat every two weeks.

I got tired on day two and felt sort of weird, a little queasy, and very sluggish. But today i am fine. And the first day i felt great. So if those are as bad as my symptoms get, I'll take it!

I think in about 6 weeks they will do an initial scan to see how much of the godforsaken, shit-for-brains cancer has been obliterated already, and that will give them an idea of how long I have to go through this.

For the record, while i was in there, an awesome, kind, inspiring woman (age 39) came in to talk to me. She was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 37, and her lungs were 95% filled with it, too. (this may have sounded like the kiss of death, but she had remained optimistic). It took two rounds of chemo, but the treatment got her lungs cancer free and she is in remission now for 2 years. I have less cancer than that (I have a small-ish tumor in my lungs and a little spot in my liver). If she can get cured, so can I!

It's just going to be a long road ahead. And when you have a long road like that, the only way you can deal with it is to go step by step. (not think long term, because there are so many steps in between, it would blow your mind). But I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want to live, so I plan to. All I need is loads of positive support from everyone, and a little help around the house. Both of which I have!

So, that's how I'm doing. Could be better, of course, but could also be worse. I don't even know that I'm going to lose my hair anymore. (the nurses seem to think I won't, the doc thinks yes... I need some clarification).

Please don't ever feel like you can't write to me about whatever is going on in your life-- I love hearing from you. i'm still the same old Shelly that I was, I've just taken a few punches. DOWN BUT NOT OUT!

Love you all,