Thursday, June 20, 2013


I’ve only been in treatment for one week at the time of this writing, yet there are a plethora of things I’ve already learned that may surprise you.

I’ve learned that:
·        Chemo does in fact make you nauseous
·        Proton radiation smells like a cross between bleach and smelly socks
·        Side effects of treatment already suck
·        Sometimes  I may not be as tough as I want to be
·        Jim Murphy is an overachiever!
·        Shopping for pill boxes can be fun
·        There is actually a bowel movement class
·        Apparently men with prostate cancer have it worse off than me during radiation
·        Monday is pediatric day at the radiation clinic L
·        God ranks over political correctness in Texas
·        Placentia Presbyterian Church is even more amazing than I thought
·        People are inherently good and will amaze you with their generosity and kindness

Now, if you’ll so indulge me, I’ll elaborate on some of my findings (big surprise there!).

I’m sure many of you know already that chemo (Cisplatin, for me) makes you nauseous.  You know because you’ve experienced it first hand in our own battle with cancer, or learned it from someone else.  But for those not too familiar I am here to confirm this ugly truth.  Just a note…I don’t like being nauseous.  I didn’t like it after anesthesia from a surgery and I didn’t like it when I was pregnant and sick for 5 months with each daughter.  But, at least I got two beautiful daughters in exchange for the nausea.  What do I get now?  Well, I guess I get the joy of knowing that when I’m feeling sick (Tues – Friday of each week), it’s an indication that this ugly plum sized cancer is getting destroyed.  And that, my friends, makes it totally worth it!

Yes, radiation smells like a cross between bleach and smelly socks.  No one informed me that there would be an odor of any kind (let alone one so pungent), while the beams so precisely work their destruction.  So, I was a little taken back, and yes, nauseous, when I smelled it.  When I mentioned it to the technician she seemed surprised.  She asked what I thought it smelled like, and informed me that usually only kids smell it.  Well, of course, I’m just a kid at heart (one that may be thrown into early menopause by all this, but a kid nonetheless).  Luckily, now I get an orange scented gauze that they wave under my nose before treatment.  Now it’s orange scented smelly socks.

I am only one week into my treatments and have already experienced some side effects.  They told me in Radiation 101 that around week 3 I would start experiencing side effects like painful sores in my mouth, dry/bloody nose, thick ropelike saliva, loss of taste, fatigue, irritated skin, etc.  Luckily I haven’t had to deal with most of them yet, but I did start getting the sores in my mouth and tongue.  And yes, they are painful.  I was prescribed a ‘Magic Mouthwash’ concoction that contains lidocaine, Benadryl and Maalox.  It succeeds in numbing the area for a while, but when it wears off the pain returns ready for the next round.  Luckily, I have my punching gloves on and feel like fighting back (well, most of the time).
This brings me to my next revelation from this past week.  Sometimes I may not be as tough as I want to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely still going to kick this thing in the A*# (I’m a Tough Mudder after all).  But, when I’m nauseous or tired or in pain from the sores, sometimes I just want to take my drugs and nap.  No big battle round, no declarations of pending victories, just sleep.  I may have been slightly over ambitious when I packed three sets of workout gear for my first week.  They are still neatly folded in the drawer.

You must know where I’m going next, don’t you?  Yes, Jim Murphy is an over achiever!  You know him if you’ve read my other blogs.  He is a superhero in a prayer shawl capable of dueling chemo and radiation in a single bound and swishing down the ski slopes ready to save a ski bunny in distress in another.  He is my role model, and while I won’t be saving any ski bunnies (it’s 95 in Houston), I’m hoping to at least get some walking time in on the treadmill on those days the chemo has worn off and I’m feeling like my old self again.  I have fun teasing Jim a bit, but I am in awe at his strength, courage and faith.  He is an inspiration.  And, it’s because of him and the blog he wrote during his battle, that I have the courage to write my own.  We love you Jim (and Rose, of course!).

Oh, did you know that shopping for pill boxes can be fun? (Not a question I ever imagined coming from my lips).  It may sound silly, but for someone who has never taken any medications regularly and can’t remember to take her vitamins, the perfect pill box is a necessity.  Did you know there are so many options out there?  There is the typical 7 day pill box with one slot per day.  But there are 2 a day, 3 a day, 4 a day; some with individual days that pop out (perfect for your purse), some smaller purse size ones and some so big that I pity the poor person who has to take all those pills.  For me, I chose the smaller 4 a day box, with the individual days that can pop out.  Once a week I fill it up and then I can’t forget to take them.  I do love my little pill box.

OK, now I might be headed to unchartered territory, but it has to be done.  Yes, there is actually a bowel management class.  No, I haven’t been to it.  But I did receive all the information on it though.  Why, you ask?  (Well, maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyways!).  Let’s just say that things get a little (actually, a lot) backed up.  And, yes, many of the pills in my pretty new pill box are round and pink…enough said.

Now, with regards to men with prostate cancer I clearly have no firsthand knowledge.  However, I met a man last week, Jerry was his name, who decided for whatever reason he would fill me in.  He was checking in at the proton radiation center in front of me.  He turned around and I smiled at him.  He was an older man, and it seemed like he was wondering if I, too, was a patient.  I had on a cute outfit and all the accessories to match…my hair still thick and full and intact.  I don’t look like I have cancer.  Anyways, after my treatment, he came over to me to ask about the proton radiation.  It was his first meeting there at the center.  I proceeded to tell him that I was a little tired, but that could’ve been from chemo.  I told him that you don’t feel anything as the radiation is working, and that for me, it wasn’t bad.  He then proceeded to tell me about his prostate cancer and that for each of his treatments they had to insert a balloon first.  OK, Jerry, TMI.  Yes, Jerry, you have it worse off than me.

I’ve realized that really, I am lucky.  There are so many people worse off than me.  I’ve learned that Monday is pediatric day at the proton center.  I just learned this today, because I didn’t start my treatments last week until Tuesday.  So, when I arrived for my treatment today, feeling great from a weekend at home with no nausea, I came upon a waiting area full of children undergoing treatment.  My heart was immediately broken in two for the babies and children suffering through this.  My heart broke for the parents and grandparents waiting for their precious gifts from God to come out of that treatment room.  I can’t imagine how scared they might be.  Having to wear a mask, stay still, smell those smells and all the while never understanding why.  The parents never understanding why.  But hopefully they know the Lord so personally that they don’t ask Him why.  Because only He knows the answers and we may never know why the bad in our life happens.  I can only hope for them that He gives them a little glimpse.  I give thanks to God that it is me going through this and not one of my precious daughters.  And, I pray for those children and their mothers.  ‘Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’  Joshua 1:9.

I’ve learned that political correctness can be kicked out the door (with nice big pointy cowboy boots, I might add), and out of the hospitals in Texas.  I was so happy to walk in to the radiation center and hear the beautiful sounds of Christian music playing in the lobby.  That probably wouldn’t happen in California, for fear of offending someone.  I’m just glad I live in a state that recognizes the need for the Lord in our lives, in our homes, in our hospitals (and sometimes even in our schools).  Because, while medicine is truly amazing, there is only one true physician and healer and that is Jesus Christ.  They work together to heal us physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Medicine may be able to heal us physically, but if we aren’t also healed spiritually are we any better off?

On that note, I’ve learned again, what I already knew, that Placentia Presbyterian Church is an amazing place full of amazing people who love the Lord and each other.  This is the church my entire family was baptized in (including Will & I).  This is the church we were married in.  This is the church my kids took their First Communion in.  This is the church where we all came to love the Lord.  This church and its people mean everything to me.  My dear friend Katie updates the congregation every week with how I’m doing and what things they can specifically pray for.  Not a single day has gone by since my diagnosis, that I haven’t received a card, a note, a gift, a book, a call, a devotional or a prayer.  Even today, as I returned to our temporary apartment in Houston, I had several cards waiting for me.  This is the church we moved away from nearly two years ago when we moved to Texas.  But I feel as covered in love and prayer over 1800 miles away as I did worshipping with them right there in the sanctuary.  Thank you, precious Lord, for placing us in their midst for as long as you did.  They are truly your shepherds and disciples and I love them.

I hope that you all have also learned that people are inherently good and will amaze you with their generosity.  I have so many examples of this, that I’m going to devote an entire entry to it.  Stay tuned.
Through everything, both good and bad, I’ve learned in just one short week of cancer treatments how truly blessed I am.  Praise God!


  1. Cathleen, you continue to amaze me with your bravery and your talented writing - good luck with the road ahead

    Fionnuala xxx

  2. Relax in My healing, holy Presence. Be still, while I transform your heart and mind. Let go of cares and worries, so that you can receive My Peace. Cease striving, and know that I am God.

    A thought for today! You and your faith bless US Cathleen.
    Charley S

  3. Yuck! Orange scented smelly socks! That made me laugh! Keeping you in my prayers! A word for the day
    So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10 NIV)

  4. Hi Cathleen,
    You are so amazing, strong, and very funny. I love the orange scented smelly socks. You are in my prayers everyday.

    Bobby Joaquin

  5. Isaiah 40:31
    But those who wait on the Lord
    Shall renew their strength;
    They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
    They shall run and not be weary,
    They shall walk and not faint.
    Cathleen, I'm so proud of you for keeping up the writing! Thinking of you this morning, as always. Love and prayers, Claire