Thursday, March 10, 2016

CANCER: Sometimes I have to do what's best for me.

In November of 2015, I was taken to the Emergency Room because I was so sick, dehydrated, and nauseated. Right at that same time, a family friend who happened to be a doctor, stopped by to visit me and told me that I should go to the ER immediately.  So I did. (By the way, that was the first time I had EVER been to an ER!) We finally figured out why I was so sick. My gall bladder was eventually removed on December 14th. Yeah.  But while in the ER, the physician assistant who spoke with me understood my cancer type as she once worked in Oncology.  She told me twice that evening, "You need to do what's best for you."  Now in a general sense that's true. But I never really understood what she meant until a month or so later.

Since September 17, 2015, (The day my daughter Emma opened up singing for a movie premiere) I had been battling a very sore tooth. The pain of this one tooth made the entire side of my mouth hurt badly.  By the end of December, I had seen two dentists, three oral surgeons, and two endodontists. I know that seems a little much, but when you have cancer there are MANY side effects to the various medications you have to take to stay alive.  I take Arimidex and Xgeva. Arimidex takes the estrogen out of my body.  It's the estrogen in my body that fuels my cancer. Xgeva is an injection that I receive every 28 days. It's only purpose is to prevent my bones from breaking. HOWEVER, by taking Xgeva, you can get a rare condition called Osteonecrosis of the Jaw (ONJ) in which the cells in the jawbone start to die. Hence, your teeth will fall out. After your last injection of Xgeva, you have to wait 60 days before you can have any invasive dental work performed on your teeth.

So here I am with horrific tooth pain (in my lower right jaw) since September 2015.  I find out that since my last Xgeva injection was October 30, 2015, I can't have any invasive work done on my teeth until December 30, 2015!  One oral surgeon told me, " I will NEVER pull that tooth!" (Pulling teeth can cause ONJ.) Another oral surgeon told me, "Yeah I can pull the tooth, but let's do a root canal first." Two different dentists told me to go somewhere else. (That's because I'm a high risk patient and I almost don't blame them.) So why do I have such different opinions from doctors in the same profession? WHY?  Then finally, a different oral surgeon that a friend highly recommended told me, "We can take the tooth out. I've worked on cancer patients just like you. You have a healthy jaw and it will be just fine to remove your tooth." My eyes welled up with tears and he said, "Do you feel like no doctors want to help you because you have cancer?" I said, "Yes." By the way, he is thee BEST oral surgeon EVER! Then we both decided that I wanted to take a conservative route and first have a root canal performed on the #30 tooth. (right lower jaw, second to last tooth.) I did that on December 30, 2015. That didn't seem to help, so on February 1, 2016, I had another root canal performed on the #29 tooth. I woke up the next morning and said, "WOW, I don't have much pain!" However, #30 still was very sensitive to touch. So on March 8, 2016, under general anesthesia, after 6 months of tooth pain and realizing that the tooth showed symptoms of being cracked along with a jaw filled with sores and puss, I had my tooth removed along with a bone biopsy to make sure I didn't have cancer in my jaw.  Ouch.  FINALLY,  I DID WHAT WAS BEST FOR ME!

Just a side note. During this same time, I had excruciating pain coming down my shoulder, into my arm, and finally landing in my thumb. My left thumb was so numb I couldn't even feel it. Scary. Plus I found out that my cancer was spreading further into my left hip. That's what cancer does. It just seems to find it's way out of every box. But that's ok. When my tooth heals in another month, I'll start a new chemo pill treatment called Ibrance along with another injection called Faslodex. I'll be taking these along with Arimidex and Xgeva. The side effects are awful, so I'll have to check it out and maybe do what's best for me.

I hope you don't think I'm selfish. I want to live as long as I possibly can. Maybe even long enough to find a cure for cancer.  Is it too much for me to ask for the quality of life that can help me spend what I have left with my family in a way that is decent enough to enjoy the few months or years I will have with them?  I think I have a pretty positive attitude.  I try to appreciate all I have and know there are many who pray for me daily. I feel every prayer! My husband is so kind and patient and helps me at every turn. My kids are very helpful too and are concerned beyond measure. I've had doctors tell me that I should be flat in the bed not being able to move with how bad my bone scan looks. I have so much cancer that my spine looks like someone drew a black line down my back. My shoulder, hips, and pelvis are covered in black. If it wasn't for the bone biopsy I had to actually determine I have cancer, I would almost doubt I do. I've always said that it's the medications that kill you and not the cancer. Sometimes I feel so tired of fighting this, but in life there is always a bright side. Just smile at someone. Just thank those who care so much about you. When you wake up each morning, be grateful you have another day with those that love you and care about you.

My last note: There was a knock at my door last week.  I opened it and found someone delivering me the most BEAUTIFUL bouquet of flowers I have ever seen!! It was sent by my endodontist wishing me a speedy recovery knowing I had to have my tooth pulled. He too just a week earlier lost his sister to cancer. She was married with three small children. I felt so sad for him. But he too knew what I was going through and wanted to make sure that I felt special during a difficult time in my life.  Here is a picture of the flowers that I received. Thanks for listening. Have a great day!

1 Peter: 7 "The trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perish."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Father's Day Brad!

I want to tell my husband Brad what a loving, kind, charming, hard-working, silly joke telling and what a plain AWESOME dad he is!  I know his kids are suppose to give him a huge "shout out" on Fathers Day, but I have the proof in pictures and know that Joshua, Jenna, Sarah, Mariah, and Emma will love going down memory lane!

When Brad first became a dad he had twins! 
Here's Brad holding Jenna

Here's Brad holding Josh

Josh and Jenna at six months

Having fun with Josh, Jenna and Sarah

Spending time with Sarah

Brad and two month old Mariah

With Josh, Mariah, Sarah and Jenna

Emma's 1st birthday

Holding Emma all day at Disneyland!

Sarah's wedding

And by far the hardest working dad I know!


Saturday, May 9, 2015

I have Metastatic Breast Cancer

My daughter Jenna shared an article that best describes the type of cancer I have.  The type of cancer I have is called metastatic breast cancer. (MBC) I am also estrogen receptor positive. As this article describes, "most cultures focus on survivorship, [however] those with metastatic breast cancer who will be in treatment for the rest of their lives can feel isolated and misunderstood." This article describes best how I feel.

According to Mapes, "155,000 women and men live with 'mets', Stage 4 breast cancer that's metastasized, or traveled, through the bloodstream to create tumors in the liver, lungs, brains, and/or other parts of the body." Mapes also states that, "while treatable, metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is incurable [and] median survival is three years; annually the disease takes 40,000 lives."

Mapes also states that, "As with primary breast cancer, treatments for [MBC] can often be harsh and unforgiving. But dealing with an incurable illness and the side effects of it's treatments aren't the only burden that MBC patients have to bear. Many have to also educate others about their disease, explaining over and over, that no, the scans and blood tests and treatments will never come to end. No, staying positive and 'just fighting hard' isn't going to beat back their late stage disease."

Believe me, I'm grateful for the large support system I have.  Let me start with my husband.  He's always here for me and helps me whenever I ask.  My five children are helpers when I need them too and know how much I love it when they brush my hair! As a member of the Mormon church, I have an incredible support system through the Relief Society.  The Relief Society is the largest women's organization in the world!

Having MBC is pretty crazy, however, when my family, friends, and those who ask me how I'm doing really want to know, this article will help you to understand my answer to "How are you feeling?"

Yep, this is me.

Friday, April 24, 2015

CANCER: You can do hard things!

Back in December 2014, I was at Cardon's Children hospital with my daughter Emma. She was giving service for the kids who had cancer.  Meanwhile, while I was watching her sing "Let It Go" from the movie Frozen, a friend of mine came out into the hall and was surprised I was there. My friend told me to come and visit her son who was also at the hospital having surgery on his knee. So me and my husband along with my friend and her husband started having a discussion about how hard life can sometimes be. (At this time, no one knew I had cancer as I didn't want to tell anyone until the holidays were over.) While all four of us were in conversation, I remembered something I had done 30 years prior that was a hard thing I had accomplished in my life.  Now it was a choice I made on my own free will, but was it truly was an experience that would prepare me to face the hardship of cancer that I would have in the future.

On September 16, 1982 I embarked on an experience of a lifetime!  I chose to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Yes, I'm a Mormon.  I'm sure most of you have seen the young men missionaries riding their bikes around with their white shirts and ties. Well I too served as a sister missionary for 18 months in Costa Rica and Panama.  In the beginning of my mission, I went to the Mission Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, for two months to learn Spanish.  This is where you learn to speak a language you most likely have never spoken and you also learn to draw closer to the Lord spiritually.  We also spoke our new language 24 hours a day. Boy, that was interesting and fun! LOVED the MTC!  One of the traditions at the MTC is to take a picture of where you'll be serving.  Here's my famous picture!

Hermana (Sister) Pennington pointing to Costa Rica and Panama

I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica on November 15th, 1982. I was 21 years old.  I thought I learned Spanish so well at the MTC. Guess what?  I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying! I thought to myself, "Will I ever learn how to speak Spanish?"  After a few days of orientation, I was assigned a companion.  Her name was Hermana Pinto. The word hermana means sister in Spanish. Just thought you should know that.  As missionaries, you are always assigned a companion that you stay with 24 hours a day.  I'm serious, 24 hours a day.  We work together as a team supporting and helping each other and helping those who want to know more about The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I grew up in the deserts of Arizona. Arriving in Costa Rica was like going to heaven!  It was so beautiful and green! The people were so humble.  I have never seen poverty like that in my entire life. Living on dirt floors and washing my clothes in a river was definitely a new experience for me.  But I LOVED it! Except for one thing...I could NEVER get over how huge the cockroaches and rats were!  The insects that I saw were out of control!  Right in the middle of teaching someone, I would jump up and start screaming when a huge bug would come flying at me!  And NEVER wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or you'll find all sorts of things crawling on the walls! Even though it was hard, I LOVED my mission! After about three to five months, with God's help, (and I really mean that) you learn to speak, read, and write the language you're learning fluently. I feel so blessed that I still speak Spanish today. Here is a picture of me in my first area Tibas, Costa Rica.  This is one of my favorite pictures.

Hermana Pennington

When you serve a mission, you serve in your area anywhere usually from two to five months. After serving in Costa Rica for three months, I was transferred to Las Lomas, Panama.  I'm talking pure jungle.  Pythons at night that ate the chickens, and rats the size of cats.  But I LOVED it! Six days a week you serve 16 hour days and live by very strict rules.  No dating, no music (gospel only) and pretty much no nothing. However, on preparation day (P-Day),  which was usually on Mondays, we took the time to write letters, wash our clothes, and buy groceries. Sometimes, we would do something fun like visit volcanoes or go hiking. One time I even visited The Panama Canal. At the end P-Day, we would have a district meeting.  Here is a picture of my district in David, Panama.  I'm the one in the center front with the almost white blonde hair. Everywhere I went people would call me "La Barbie." (Trust me, they wouldn't say that anymore, but it was fun at the time!)  One of my favorite areas to serve was Las, Lomas, Panama.  My companion was Hermana Sunilda Andreve. She was "mi companera de oro." (A "golden companion" means she was very awesome and we had tons of fun serving together!) I just wish I had a picture of her while we were companions!

David, Panama District

This was my Mom's favorite picture of me on my mission.

The Jungle.  Las Lomas, Panama

There is a story behind this last picture.  We would pass these cows everyday.  Then one day they wanted to charge us!  So off we ran as fast as we could!  Laughing our heads off the whole time! Luckily, they didn't catch us!

I later served with Hermana Frandsen (coolest sister ever from Firth, Idaho) in Panama City, then back to David, Panama with Hermana Parra, and then back to Heredia, Costa Rica with Hermana Anderson.  

The experiences I had on my mission were so amazing and at the same time so difficult that I knew there had to be a greater reason for why I went through such spiritual and yet such hard times. Sometimes, our life experiences and trials are so challenging that we think we won't survive! But we do!  We always do!  On that December day, watching my daughter sing to kids that had cancer and knowing that I, too, had to face my own battle of cancer, made me reflect back to my mission. That's it! My mission was a necessary experience that would prepare me to battle cancer. Being diagnosed with cancer would be one the most difficult trials of my life.  I then realized I could do hard things! All of us can!! You too will learn from difficult experiences in your life! Go forward with faith! Trust in God and know that anything is possible! NEVER EVER GIVE UP!!  

One more thing...This is my handsome husband who also served a mission in The San Bernardino, California Mission 1982-1984.  I just had to throw this in!

And my son Josh serving a mission in Fortaleza, Brazil  June2006-June2008

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

CANCER: Sometimes you just have to keep on going!

When I first find out I had cancer, all my future plans went out the door.  The truth is that you really don't know how long you're going to live.  Then the doctor starts telling you about all the extreme and unpredictable treatments you're going to have.  The fear of the unknown almost drives you crazy. The emotional aspect of having cancer is sometimes worse than the painful treatments you must endure.  You want your life to continue on as usual.  You just want everything to be normal and you know that everything is going to change.  But does life have to change?

On Monday, February 23, 2015,  I had to have an additional treatment.  This treatment had to be given through and IV for a duration of about 30 minutes.  My estrogen inhibitor that is suppose to stop the progression of my cancer causes severe bone deterioration.  The new treatment medicine is called Zometa prevents my bones from breaking but has extreme side effects. I will have to take this treatment every 28 days for the rest of my life. My daughter Sarah came with me to my appointment, as I didn't know whether or not I would be able to drive home after I completed the treatment.  After I finished, I felt just fine.  I even went to Costco.  My kids know that the day I can no longer shop at Costco is the day they better call Hospice!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015  was a different day.  Several of the side effects started to kick in and I felt as if someone had taken a bat and beat me over and over and I couldn't move a muscle.  I felt as if I had the worst case of the aching flu I had ever had.  Also, the joint pain in my body almost prohibited me from walking or moving about.  But still, there are others who have these side effects and even more.  I felt lucky.

My husband and each of my children have been a huge support for me and have helped me tremendously.  I don't know what I would do without them! I love it when Jenna comes over to visit with my three grandchildren.  They keep me moving and feeling young. My daughter Sarah who is an R.N. keeps my physical and mental health in check. Mariah always find the time to help me out no matter how busy she is in school and work. My youngest child Emma has taken a different approach about my cancer.  Even though she feels sad about my situation, she talks as if my future plans will remain the same and that life can keep moving on normally.  When I'm around her, sometimes I forget I have cancer.  I get up in the morning, take her to school, pick her up, take her here and take her there.

One of the things I enjoy doing for Emma is taking her to her various bookings.  I bet you'll never guess what she does.  She started her own business as an entertainer character.  She portrays the character "Elsa" from the movie Frozen and schedules her services for mostly birthday parties.  She looks exactly like Elsa! She even sings the song "Let It Go" at the parties. She does an excellent job!

Since Emma started her business, she had always wanted to make a music video portraying Elsa singing "Let It Go."  No one had ever made a music video singing "Let It Go" in real snow, with the real dress, with real hair, with real talent, and that looked EXACTLY like Elsa!  When I found out I had cancer, I knew it would be impossible to do what she wanted.  I thought I would be too sick to help.  No way was this going to happen.  Plus, we hadn't had any snow and I just wanted to give up.  Emma pushed on and paid for and ordered a new dress that looked exactly like the one in the movie. I mean exactly!!  She just kept going on.  Then it finally snowed in Flagstaff! (About three hours away.) My daughter Jenna texted me and said, "It's snowing in Flagstaff!!!! You've got to go and make the video!!!"

I called up my brother-in-law Brian Stewart, who has a degree in film, (how lucky is that!) and decided we would go up only two days after my treatment. This was the last chance we would have before things started heating up around here.  I do live in Arizona!  There was only one problem.  Two days after my IV treatment of Zometa, I still felt like I had the worst case of the flu EVER.  So I had to make a choice. I could lay there on the couch and dash everyone's dreams away, or I could keep on living my life normally and fight on through this struggle.  So I got myself off the couch and off we went to make the video! It took the entire day and we had so much fun!  We laughed all the way up and laughed all the way back!  Laughing is actually an excellent source of medicine!  No matter how difficult life can be, you have to keep on going and find happiness in the daily struggles of life. Don't let ANYTHING keep you down!

Drum roll please......!  Here is the music video of Emma singing "Let It Go,"  ENJOY!!

(And for extra fun you can listen to more of Emma's music at )

Friday, February 20, 2015

CANCER: Music heals the soul

February 20, 2015 was going to be a long day.  I woke up nervous about the thought of having another bone scan.  I felt nervous about having nuclear medicine pumped into my body. But that morning was different.  I started listening to my brother's music.  Most of you know that my brother CP died almost five years ago.  My brother is my most favorite male singer of all time.  He knew that I loved it when he sang.  Wherever he performed, I was there cheering him on.  He trusted me to sometimes accompany him on piano. Anything I could do to help him in his singing career I would do just for him.  After his death, I had a difficult time listening to his music. It made me so sad I could hardly stand it.  But slowly, I couldn't help but once again listen to his soothing and magical voice. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt his presence and love near.  When I listened to his songs, I started to feel peace and a healing to my soul.

I want to share with each of you some of my favorite songs that CP sang. He also has many other recordings that I will probably share in the future.

First, I love his cover of "Remember When It Rained" by Josh Groban.  Wait until he belts it out at the end!

Second, no one and I mean NO ONE could imitate Neil Diamond better than CP! Check it out when he sings his cover of "Hello Again" by Neil Diamond. You really won't believe it!

Finally, the last song he recorded was "I Know That My Redeemer Lives."  When my mother passed away of cancer exactly two weeks after CP died, we actually played this song at her funeral.  She always wanted him to sing this song at her funeral.

Music is a big part of my family.  As I prepare to start an additional treatment on Monday, February 23, I'm going to prepare my day through once again listening to my most awesome brother inspire me and help me endure what lies ahead.  Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Some blessings do come with cancer

One of the things I remembered most was when my oncologist said, "You need to eat healthy and exercise."  I thought to myself, "Oh dear, I'm going to have to make some BIG changes in my life!" When my daughter Jenna first heard of my cancer diagnosis, she came right over with a Huron Juicer 100 and convinced me that I needed to start juicing carrots, apples, and you name it. After she showed me how to use it, I slowly put the cup to my mouth as if she was feeding me poison and I REALLY loved it!  It tasted so fresh! Then I introduced all the different juices to the rest of my family and they loved it too!  The next big step was to eliminate most sugars from my diet.  This was kind of easy because sugar makes me sick anyway.  Now to think that I would no longer drink diet Dr. Pepper was too much to handle.  But I personally felt that soda should be eliminated from my life. Oh this was HARD!  I was even at Costco the other day and saw that they were selling 32 cans for only $5.99!!  But I just kept walking on down the aisle. (Even though I wanted to go back several times and put the case in my basket!)

Not only is eating a healthy diet important, but so is daily exercise.  I have to admit that exercising is not my favorite thing to do.  I do like a good game of racquetball (even though I haven't played for years) and I like to dance for fun with my daughters (which is very embarrassing when you catch them videoing you) but changing my exercise lifestyle is a must!  I can't do anything too crazy like trying to balance on a trapeze or Fencing because the treatment I'm on causes brittle bones. However, walking 30 minutes a day is definitely important. Who knows, maybe I can go back to Fencing one day. Hey, back in the day, I was a pretty good Fencer at BYU!

Isn't it interesting that sometimes we can have something hard happen in our life that makes us change for the better?  I feel blessed to have an excellent oncologist, surgeon, treatment plan, and now a healthier life style that includes eating well and daily exercise. Wish me luck!!

Freshly juiced carrot and apple juice!