A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with the First Step"

Still Alive and Kicking-11 years with MM

 “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”  My journey in martial arts began a “thousand miles” ago in 1997 when I donned a crisp white uniform and belt. This journey has had many winding roads, starts and stops.
    I was excited to join my husband and three children and start on the path my family had begun.  However it was short-lived as two more children joined our family and my green belt was set aside.
  Over the years I watched each of our five children rise through the ranks. I dreamed of practicing and testing along with each one of them, but as the responsibilities of being a full-time mother, part-time business owner grew, this dream faded into the background and I hung up my yellow belt.
Martial arts has been a big part of our family and has made a lasting impact on our family culture.  No matter the age of each of our children, they all had something in common with one another. It was wonderful to find an activity where everyone could be involved.  “The family that kicks together sticks together,” seemed to be our family motto.
I attended many rank tests and tournaments over the years as I supported my husband and children through their journeys.  At one point I was practicing enough to enter a tournament. I remember entering in the women’s 18-34 sparring competition.  I was 34 and my first opponent was 18. It was not pretty and I ended up on the floor and at the chiropractor the next day. But it was thrilling to actually compete instead of being on the sidelines.  However, life with a busy family once again took priority and I hung up my blue belt. 

Weapons form to the song “Survivor”

My journey came to a crashing halt in 2008 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma; cancer of the bone marrow.  I immediately begin treatment including two stem cell transplants and three years of chemotherapy and maintenance medications.  My life, goals, and dreams for the future were all put on hold with the real possibility that my life would be cut short. I dealt with extreme fatigue, intense bone pain, kidney and liver damage, cataracts, and a myriad of other side effects.  It took many years to recover. Although Multiple Myeloma is incurable I have been blessed with the gradual return of good health. I am one of the lucky few.  
     Five years ago my oldest son asked if I would be willing to help him at Maple Mountain Arts studio which he owned on main street.  I began helping out with new students and office tasks. My energy level was just returning and some days it would take all that I could muster to make it down to the studio for a few hours but it was a blessing to have some responsibility and a place to gently recover.
      As my health returned my goals and dreams for the future came back into focus.  I began teaching four years ago at the Jr. High, and am now teaching full time at the High School.  Although I was busy with a new career the thought of earning a blackbelt once again became a possibility.  
    So with some persuasion and encouragement from my husband and son I once again donned a uniform, dug up my old blue belt and started over, re-learning the forms.  I was feeling old, out of shape, and very hesitant but I was back on my journey and decided I would just take it one step at a time.  
    This journey has been tough! Everything is a challenge from memorizing forms, stretching out limbs, to learning to punch, block and kick with a class full of teenagers-some of whom I have taught in school.

Me and my sparring partner, grappling buddy, and daughter-in-law

I have been so fortunate to continue on this last leg of my journey with my daughter-in-law.  We have vented to each other after a tough class, laughed until we cried as we learned to grapple, and encouraged each other to keep going when it was tempting to quit.  
The closer I get to the end of this journey, the more I realize that a black belt means so much more to me than learning to kick and punch.  It is about overcoming.  
Overcoming the limitations of the past.  Overcoming physical challenges and poor health. Overcoming the barriers we set for ourselves about, age, skill level, and past experiences.  It’s about overcoming excuses. There have been many moments on this journey when I have thought about quitting, and many times when the possibility of giving up this journey seemed inevitable.  

     Life has thrown me some pretty good reasons to walk away from this goal but the chance to join my husband and children in the rank of black belt has driven me to continue this journey.  To overcome the challenges put in my path and to relish this opportunity to realize my dream that began a “thousand miles ago.”   

The chance to join my family as a black belt finally became a reality!

So grateful for the love and support from my family!
       

10th Cancerversary!

Happy Canceversary to me!  It has been 10 years today since I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma!
My treatment included high doses of chemotherapy,  Melphalan, Velcade, Thalidomide, Revelomid, and two stem cell transplants.  This kicked me down to “barely breathing,” but kicked Myeloma into a “Complete Response.”   I was on Maintenance medication for about 4 years and have slowly regained my strength since then.  I continue to do blood tests and lab work every three months and scans and a bone marrow biopsy once a year.

To celebrate 10 years my family gathered in Salt Lake City with the LLS “Light the Night” event.
It was wonderful to have my whole family (minus two babies) together reflecting on this journey and rejoicing in LIFE!

34 years together and counting!!!!

                                           

We wore stickers saying, “Kelly’s Kicking Cancer since 2008”

                       
                     

                                                               

I feel healthy and strong and try to keep cancer on the “back burner,” where it can’t take over my thoughts or negatively affect the day to day decisions I make.  I am a full-time teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother and I have so much to be thankful for!
So the big question is, am I cured?  Unfortunately there is no cure YET for Myeloma but good things are happening in the Myeloma research field and also in patient research.
                    Life is Good!

  Healthtree.org is a website and patient research platform that was created by a Myeloma patient and her husband right here in Utah.  Through patients sharing their specific types of mm and treatments with other myeloma patients and doctors around the world, researchers are able to find what works and why it works and then treat patients with the right treatment for their specific type of Myeloma.  This simple, free website uses the power of the internet to share useful information with each other instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with each new patient.

 I don’t know why I have been so lucky at this point to be celebrating 10 years with no maintenance medications beyond my initial treatment but if others can learn from my experiences, I am glad to help.  Please check out this website and see what can be possible by sharing information.

Eight Years!

 
 It has been eight years ago today since I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.
October 29,  2008 will forever be etched in my memory as the day that changed the course of my life. 
    On the one hand, it was as if a bomb had exploded, taking away my health, shredding my future, and destroying my hope.  But on the other hand this is the day that my journey began, and I cannot erase the dark painful days without giving up  the miracles and blessings that have come about while climbing this Myeloma Mountain.
     It has been eight years!  Four years longer than my first prognosis.  
    I am healthy and strong!  My lab results show no signs of Myeloma.  Is it gone?  Will it come back? I don’t know.  But I am going to ride this wave as long as possible and maybe mm won’t crash back into my life again.  I can’t ask the “what if’s” anymore.  Instead today is a time to reflect and share some of the miracles and blessings I have received during this journey.

Spending time with my family in
Star Valley, Wyoming
(7 new family members since diagnosis,
and a new daughter in law, and a
grand baby–both coming in May.)



Spencer, my youngest, just starting his
 Senior year of High School!
He was 10 when I was diagnosed:(
Trent and Lys are getting married in May.
Aren’t they cute!

      

These kids are my amazing, wonderful,
crazy grandchildren!
(Eight years ago I wondered if I would
ever get to be a grandmother. )

 I started back up in Martial Arts.
It took a while for my body and brain
 to get back in shape!
My son Tyler and I after my
 senior brown test.
I have slacked off the last
several months
 because
 this
 happened……..

I got a teaching job!
After graduating 25 years
 ago in
Family and Consumer Science
 Education,
I finally get to teach!
I am teaching
7th, 8th, and 9th grade.
It is CHALLENGING, HARD, and EXHAUSTING.
and
 I am loving it.
Besides Junior High Kids can’t scare me, I’ve had cancer!

On Top Of The World!

    It has been six and a half years since I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.  Three and a half years since I finished treatment and maintenance, and 7 months since I was finally able to get off all pain medication.  Over the past several months I have felt new life and energy returning to my body!   
  
          On Top of the World
 It feels so good to feel so good!   No pain! No fatigue!  No treatment!  I actually have energy!!  I wake up every morning excited to start a new day.  Believe it or not, I actually get excited to clean my house (my son is thrilled!)
Last week the opportunity came to hike the “Y.” This is a large painted letter Y. It is made of concrete and is 380 feet high and 130 feet wide near the top of the mountain 
above Brigham Young University.
  
 This popular hike is not very long but it is fairly steep with 12 different switchbacks rising over 1000ft in elevation. Even though I had a cold, I jumped at the opportunity to check this off my “bucket list.” I was lucky to have two of my sons come with me.

      I had no idea how much this hike would affect me when I started out early Tuesday morning.

With each step, memories of my past “mountain climbing” experiences with Multiple Myeloma came flooding into my mind and occasionally dripping down my cheeks. I recalled a post I wrote on January 12, 2009 titled, “Shaking out my Shoes.”
Many of the feelings and thoughts I had when I started this journey were vividly symbolized with each step I took up “Y” mountain.  I recalled these words;
    Sometimes when you climb mountains you have to take time out to sit down in the dirt and shake the rocks, pebbles, and sand out of your shoes. Sometimes while I am climbing this mountain I have to “shake out my shoes,” with a box of kleenex by my side. This is a pretty steep mountain and there are times when I don’t feel like taking another step. Sometimes this upward climb becomes more of a mental than a physical challenge.”
      This trek was harder than I had envisioned and my view of the “Y” disappeared within the first few hundred feet of the hike.  It wasn’t long before I had to stop, catch my breath, and take a sip of water.  The higher I climbed, the harder my heart started beating and the more often I had to stop and rest along the trail.  I watched young children and older adults pass me with ease.   I had to remind myself this isn’t a race and I am not competing with anyone else on the trail but myself.
       As the incline increased I grabbed onto the strap of one of my son’s backpack.  I found this helped keep me moving a little further between breaks.  Eventually I hooked my elbows between both my sons and hiked up the rest of the path to our destination.  We were rewarded with a beautiful view of the valley.  I was overcome with emotion that I was able to accomplish something that a few years ago I thought might never happen.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude that my body has healed and my life has been blessed with more time to enjoy with my friends and family.

     I once again realized that I can’t climb my mountain alone.  Just as I a leaned on my sons to help me climb to the “Y,” -my family, friends, and my faith in God help me keep going.  I can’t compare myself to others and where they are on the trail.  Their steep places are not mine and the rocks that I may stumble on and grow from may be a “walk in the park,” for them.  
      Sometimes I can’t see where a path will lead or when a trial/trail may end.  That is the time when I need to stop, take a drink of water, gather strength from those around me and take another step knowing that God is bigger than any mountain I may have to climb and with His help no matter what challenges any of us face if we are willing to keep moving upward He will bless us.  


By the way I’m writing this from the hospital.  I had labs, a PET scan, and now an Aredia (bone hardening) infusion.  I have had plenty of time to write.  After waiting a half hour for the medication to come from the pharmacy, the nurse started the two hour infusion and the pump started beeping 30 minutes later.  When she came over to check it out, she stepped in a puddle of Aredia dripping off of the tube by my recliner.  Apparently she had forgoten to hook up the line and I was just getting saline.  So she had to order it again. She was embarrassed, but no harm done as long as I don’t have to pay for that puddle!  Four hours later I’m finally headed home just in time for rush hour traffic.  
Gotta love it.  It makes for an interesting day to what has become my three/six month routine.

Great Views


               The sun has been shining over the past several weeks and
I just wanted to post something a little brighter
than my previous post.
The weather is beautiful and the last few weekends
 have brought our family a chance to work in
our yard and garden.

Even Tabitha helped water the tomatoes.

We planted 300  tomato plants as well as onions, peppers, watermelons,
catalops, beets, peas, radishes,
 beans,raspberries and I’m sure there are more I have forgotten. 
My son-in-law and two sons plan on selling most of the
 produce at the local Farmer’s Market.

Kirby and Zoey enjoyed the outdoors too,
Here are a “few good men outstanding in their field.”
Trent always works better while listening to a few good tunes
 on his headphones.
See the blue beehive in the background? 
That’s the new home of 30,000 bees
 thanks to my son-in-law and
another one of his new hobbies.
Eggs anyone?
What a great life I have!
The views from
 the top
 of my mountain
 are amazing!

I am learning to live joyfully in the moment!

Giving In and Giving Up

Every few months or so I make the same stupid mistake. 
Sometimes I
just get so frustrated with
my poor health,

never ending infections and  PAIN,  that
I just decide to throw it all
up.

I mean literally and figuratively!
  


Lately I have been dealing with nausea from too many antibiotics

resulting in stomach aches and another ulcer. 

Also...
My liver decided to quit functioning properly.


So a few weeks
ago I had a liver biopsy. 

The Liver doctor inserted a long
needle between the ribs

on my right side and pulled out a sample of
tissue to be examined.

(it was not nearly as painful as I had imagined-thank goodness)

It's been over three long anxious weeks and
I still
have not received any results.
 

The nurse did tell me over the phone that
it's not likely cancer

from the lab report she read (whew).
But still I
must continue to wait! Very frustrating!!
  


So to sum it all up.
I am sick of being sick! 
Yesterday I decided
to quit. 

Instead of getting out my 2/day pill box filled with antibiotics,
pills for this side effect and another for
the side
effect of that side effect,

as well as a host of vitamins and
minerals,

I just gave up and threw the box up onto the shelf.
I
tore off my pain patch and decided it was all in my head. 

Maybe the
reason I am always tired, have no appetite and can't sleep

or can't
sleep enough is just because of all these stupid drugs!


     

At 2am I woke up in PAIN.
It hurt from my toes up to my nose.
My body was stiff and grating.

I managed to hobble to the bathroom to
get a drink. "I can do this,"

I said giving myself a pep
talk, I turned my iPod on,

plugged in my ear phones and forced myself to
go back to sleep

 while listening to my " middle of the night, lull me
to sleep music".


It finally worked for a couple hours
until the pain
grew and gnawed me awake. 

I lay there gathering my thoughts and then

finally my strength to do what I had to do.
  

I hobbled back to the bathroom pulled down my pill box,
and
took the few most important pills including a pain pill. 

I grabbed a
new pain patch and slapped it on my back.


I gave up and gave in. 
I gave up the idea that my poor health is all
in my head. 

That the pain is just imagined,
and that because I am in
cancer remission

 the effects of fighting it have disappeared.
They
haven't.
 

And I gave in to the fact that I can not do this on my own. 
That
(as my husband says) "It is what it is." 

My body has pain and my body
is still trying to heal.

I can not run away from that fact. 

I
gave my pain and my problems up in prayer.
      

I pleaded for strength and courage to continue.
I need medication. I need faith.
I need strength from my Father in Heaven.

When I quit fighting against the pain, and
give in to what I must do.
When I give up my pride in trying to do it all my own,
and lean on the Lord for help,
I gather the strength to continue
climbing this multiple myeloma mountain. 

Here is one of my favorite hymns.
"How Firm a Foundation"
3. Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am
thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and
cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my
righteous,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.









  


JUST BREATHE



JUST BREATHE

 Last Monday was my six-month check-up at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.  I do a lot of breathing that day.    

I take my first breath as I step on the scales to be weighed and measured.  You’d think I would get used to this, but I’m still always hoping for a lower number.
I take a deep breath as the “double lumen” port in my chest is accessed and 12 vials of blood are drawn and then another breath when the nurse has to take two more vials from my arm.   It is a good thing I have never been upset by the sight of blood.  This trait has come in handy over the last three years.
After the bandage is applied, I am led down the hall to a small examining room.  I sit on the bed and answer the questions from the Physicians Assistant who will be performing a biopsy.  I know the procedure well.  I think this is my eleventh time.  I am usually not too anxious until the actual procedure begins.   An IV of a small amount of morphine is administered through my port and I lay down as it begins to take effect.  After the paperwork and the risks involved are explained, I turn on my stomach pulling the bottom of my shirt up three or four inches and the waistband of my pants down three or four inches.  I can only vaguely explain what happens next while lying on my stomach; which is probably a good thing.
The procedure begins with a shot of lidocaine and once again I breathe.  In and out, slow, deep breathes as the area of the skin and then the iliac crest quickly become numb.    The aspirate comes first.  A long needle is plunged through the bone and into the marrow where it is aspirated into the syringe.  I breathe through the aspiration. I feel strong pressure from my hip down my leg down to my toes. As if the sample is being sucked up from my toes into the syringe.  I focus on deep slow breathes until the pain subsides.  Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the P.A. hand the vial to the phlebotomist who prepares the samples for testing.   He banters back and forth with the smart, pretty, P.A. asking me questions now and then to keep my mind distracted.
 Far from over, the next part is the bone marrow biopsy.  It feels like a drill.  The instrument is pushed down through the flesh and into the bone to extract a sample.  I feel intense pressure as the tool goes round and round, drilling into the bone.  It seems to take forever.  And once again I must concentrate on my  breaths.  Finally a core sample of bone is extracted and dropped into another vial and handed off to the friendly phlebotomist. I open my eyes and ask for a quick peek.  I’m curious what this piece of my body looks like.  The white bone is about 1 ½” long and the diameter of a spaghetti noodle.  I hope and pray that no myeloma cells exist in the sample.
Several hours later after the fog from the morphine lifts, I head to the radiology department.  My next test is a full body M.R.I.
 I carefully lay down on my back with the thick biopsy bandage. The table is skinny and flat.  The radioligist begins snapping on my “armour.”  A large plastic unit goes over my chest and snaps down tightly. I lay my head down into a form which holds my head in place and then I’m asked if I want headphones.  “Yes, Please” I reply starting to feel a little claustrophobic as the large headphones are fit snuggly to my ears and then a large helmet like piece is snapped in front of my face.  There is a small window where I should be able to look down over my body and through a window where the radioligist will be sitting with his assistant running the scans.  Without my glasses I see nothing in the distance.  Now I can barely hear as the kind nurse places a plastic bulb attached to a cord into my left hand.  She explains if there is any problem I can squeeze the bulb and they will stop the scans and help me. 
I feel like an astronaut preparing for launch.  Except I feel plenty of gravity.  I am pushed and snapped and squeezed into this small rocket to where I am unable to move anything but my breath.  They ask, “are  you ready?  Is the music ok?”  I give a barely audible yes and they leave the room.  Now is the time to breathe.  I take a deep breath and begin counting slowly.  I focus on the numbers instead of my small quarters.  I count to seven, hold it, then blow the air out as I exhale for eight counts. 
The M.R.I is loud.  It bangs like a hammer quickly tapping out a fast rhythm.  Then silence, and then a clicking noise as the scan moves to a different position.  “Just breathe,” I tell myself over and over.  The first ten minutes are hard.  I need to cough, to swallow.  I move my head slightly and wonder if I messed up the scan.  Slowly my breathing becomes steady and controlled.  My body relaxes and my mind is free to wander.  An hour goes by and the machine finally stops.  I am freed from my space ship, and I sit up letting the blood flow to my hands and feet.  I made it through another test, and it is time to go. It is time to return home and to wait.  To wait and wonder what the results of these tests will tell. 
Finally it is Friday.   My husband and I head up to Huntsman to meet with my new oncologist.  Dr. Tricot has moved his practice to Iowa so I now see his partner Dr. Zangari.  Unlike the slow and methodical personality of Dr. Tricot, Dr. Zangari enters the room in a whirlwind.  He opens up my files, taps on his computer and begins asking questions all at once. 
After reading through lab and test results on the computer, he invites us to come over and look at the screen.  He points out the sentence from the M.R.I results and says in his thick Italian accent, “I can’t do a thing for you.”  I see the twinkle in his eye and read from the report, “no sign of multiple myeloma.”
 And my husband and I breathe a sigh of relief for another eight months!

Please pass the Catch-up

Hellooo, I’m back.  I have stopped and started several posts over the past few months.  I could say I have had writers block but my reasons for not writing have not been from a lack of what to write but rather from feeling overwhelmed with having too many things to write about.  Here are a few summaries of some of those possible posts to catch up.

Uncle Spencer 13, with Tabi, 16 months

     December: a change in meds had me experiencing extreme side effects of depression for several days.  I now understand what that black hole feels like and have gained new empathy for those who struggle with depression.  I feel much better now!

   
Elder Kelly with a family in Puerto Rico
Christmas: I had a wonderful Christmas.  My two favorite gifts inluded a phone call and skype with my son on an LDS mission in Puerto Rico…  and receiving the announcement that my son and his wife are expecting their second child. I am going to get another grandbaby next summer!
Tabi preparing to be a big sister.
   
 Good food, fun, and lots of family for the holidays.
    January.  Found out I have developed cataracts from the steriod treatments on a Monday.  On Thursday morning I could not be woke up.  When I did finally come around I had lost my hearing!   After spending several hours in the E.R.,  My hearing returned and a MRI found only another sinus and ear infection.    Strange but lucky!
    February  I am finally gaining some energy.  It feels so good to have a little momentum.  I actually deep cleaned my basement!
   Last weekend I had a visit from my cousin  who is in remission with colon cancer.  We spent the weekend talking about cancer, life, and life after cancer.  It was great therapy.  Thanks Jill!

                                                                        So here I am. 
 My body is continuing to heal and recover from cancer and chemo.  It has been a very long and winding road.

 I am learning to keep the past in the past where it belongs.

 I can’t keep looking back to the pain over the past three years,  but look back only to find the progress that I have made. 

 I am learning that I have a future that looks pretty bright.  It may not be the way I planned it, but whose really is!  I can move mountains with the help of Him who created them and the love and support of family, friends.  I can move mountains with faith that the Lord has a plan for me!




  

Thanks for Loving Me Through It

Thanks Mom, Dad, Joe, Tyler, Dani, Trevor, Mallory and to all those who continue to love me through this mountain that I face.  You give me courage and hope as this journey continues.