Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Finn Caleb is here!

We are so in love. We are so tired. We are so amazed by this tiny human we created. We are parents!

Finn was in no hurry to come out, and I spent over 24 hours in labor, but he was a trooper. He was 7lb, 7 oz and 21 inches long at birth, and he's already putting back on the weight he lost in the first two days. He has a little bit of jaundice, but the pediatrician wasn't concerned about it at our first visit this morning and said it should begin to ease by tomorrow. He's a fantastic eater; his little cleft lip has posed no problems for him. He has more hair than his mom, though I will point out how much mine is growing in and that it's starting to get (relatively) long. It's also super soft.

I had some difficulties after he was born and ended up needing two units of blood the following day, but it has helped me feel much better. I was a regular blood donor up until pregnancy, but I never thought I'd be on the receiving end. Kevin made his next appointment to donate platelets before we even left the hospital; he'll go in on Thursday. If you're interested in donating, you can schedule an appointment online. I'll have a minimum of 12 months deferral once I finish treatment, but for as long as they'll take my blood, they can have it. Also, hopefully, the federal regulations surrounding eligibility of LGBT people will soon catch up with the reality of the lack of risk posed.

We will write more about him and our experience so far, but my brain and my body are too tired right now, and I'm going to try to get some sleep before Finn wakes up and is ready for playtime...from about 11pm until 3am.

Monday, June 20, 2016

So very close.

I had my second-to-last NST today. Baby was a little more stubborn than usual, so it took longer than it has in the past, but everything checked out just fine. Without doing a full growth sonogram, the tech estimated the baby is about 7lb, 14 oz, which is just fine with me--not too big, not too small.

TMI Alert.  I've had some stomach issues for the past few days. Until today, I assumed it was just from the Taxol, since I have had minor issues each weekend afterwards. When the issues continued into today, I began to get concerned that it could be the diarrhea that I know often accompanies early labor, especially since I've had lots of contractions today. Some of them have been painful, but most of them have just been uncomfortable. The nurse said if I continue to have issues tomorrow, or if it gets worse, I should call the doctor and see if they want to do anything about it, but for now, I just need to make sure I'm drinking enough water.

It would be pretty nice if I went into labor on my own and didn't have to be induced, though the idea of this baby coming already is just a wee bit anxiety inducing. I know it's just a couple of days at this point, but somehow, those couple of days gives me a cushion that keeps it from being too real.

We had plans already to see Finding Dory with Kevin's parents, sister, and brother-in-law, and while I decided I was still up for it, I was worn out from the day and not up for cooking. We went to dinner at Red Brick Station, which was definitely a winner, particularly with the half-priced burger special. Finding Dory was excellent, and I only missed a few minutes of it when my bladder and the baby combined their powers and I had to sneak out to pee.

I took a nice long, warm-not-too-hot bath when we got home, and it eased some of the contractions discomfort. I'm now sitting with my feet up and drinking a bottle of water while I write, and I'll put myself to bed in just a few minutes. The usual Taxol aches have begun to settle in, so bed will be extra nice.

My mom is planning to head up tomorrow afternoon. She will be bringing the donated breast milk from my brother-in-law's cousin; another family member is bringing it from Charleston, SC to Charlotte, and she'll be on the road as soon as she picks it up from them. She'll have the car filled with gifts from the virtual baby shower my sisters hosted for me last month, as well as items that my almost-one-year-old nephew has outgrown. I'm looking forward to having her here. Dad will come up in another couple of days (sooner if needed), and it'll be super awesome to have them both here.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The cat and I are not friends.

I wasn't given the option, of course, but if I had been, I'm pretty sure I'd have eaten an entire jar of pickles over giving a cat a bath at 38 weeks pregnant. Pickles, in case you are unaware, are cucumbers soaked in EVIL and I hate even the smell of them.

Apparently Homer wasn't too happy about being put in the crate to get his nails trimmed this morning, and he let me know it by using the crate as his litter box before we got back home.

Don't let the pathetic expressions fool you. He was disgusting and covered in bathroom mess, and Kevin was not at home, so it's me you should feel sorry for. Thank goodness his nails were freshly trimmed. I don't want to imagine how shredded I would have been otherwise.

Last Taxol before baby!

I went in yesterday for my last chemo before we meet Baby B. Everything went well, and many of the staff and volunteers came by to wish me good luck. I got lots of hugs and requests to let them know when the baby arrived and how we were doing. I also won in Phase 10. My sweet, kind, and gentle mother-in-law called me lots of unbecoming names. I mostly deserved them: I won by several phases this time.

After a nice nap on the couch while Kevin finished his work from home day, we headed to his parents' house for our pizza dinner and then drove back to GBMC for our infant CPR class. That was the last major thing we needed to do before the baby comes, and so I have officially given Baby Brotzman permission to come when she or he is ready.

The weekend is, as they all seem to be lately, packed. We have to pass on his cousin's son's first birthday party, also this afternoon, as he had a high fever last night and has been exposed to hand, foot, & mouth disease, which is something I absolutely do not want to be anywhere near, but there's plenty of other stuff going on. While Kevin cuts the lawn at the row house, I'll take Homer to the vet to get his nails trimmed. The other cats will let me do it, but Homer is next to impossible, so it's worth it to pay the vet to do it. Also, those suckers are long and sharp--definitely something we don't want to worry about when he meets the baby. We've got Kevin's Mannion family reunion picnic this afternoon, which is always a fun time.  Besides that, we'll be doing a little last minute reorganizing of the cabinets in the kitchen, because I've finally decided where I want to put bottles and other baby supplies, and we'll hopefully get the decorations hung in the nursery. I imagine they'll look even nicer hanging on the walls than they do propped up on the floor against the wall. There will likely be at least one nap in the midst of that.

Kevin will go with his dad and sister to the Orioles game tomorrow afternoon. He's pretty excited about the newsboy cap giveaway for Father's Day. I'll stay home and rest, since I'm usually feeling pretty puny starting on Sundays.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thank you.

In a week filled with sorrow and heartbreak at the news of the mass murder of LGBT people in Orlando, in our own little bubble of a world, we have felt much comfort from those around us.

Generosity has been the theme of the week for us.

Overwhelmed and grateful have been the feelings of the week.

On Sunday, we met my brother-in-law's cousin to pick up a donation of breast milk. It was enough to fill a large cooler, and it'll feed Baby B for a few weeks. We're also working with another of his cousins to get another donation of milk--the first month's worth, from colostrum to week four! I can't remember if I've posted about this already, and I'm too tired to go back and look for it, so I'll just say that these donations really help to take the sting out of not being able to breastfeed the baby myself.

Our wonderful friend Molly offered to set up a GoFundMe account for Kevin and me to help us with all of the medical expenses that we're facing through my treatment. In five days, 51 people have donated $3250 to us. It's enough to pay our co-pays for one of my A-C (the drugs I had for my first cycle of chemo) infusions, plus about five of my Taxol infusions. I have tried to compose this post for four days now, since the donations first started flooding in, and it's been so difficult. I just don't have the words to express how grateful I am to everyone. We have received donations from family members, friends, friends of friends, and people we have never heard of.

Kevin is a better writer than me, especially when it comes to things like this, where I am so completely and utterly overwhelmed with emotion and love that I often can't find any words at all and tears of thankfulness have to suffice. So I'll share his words (posted earlier this week on Facebook), and I'll pray that each of you knows how much it means to us.

"Sometimes I worry that I'm going to run out of ways to express my gratitude to everyone. Since Janet Anne's diagnosis back in March, our friends, family, coworkers, and community members have given so much: advice, companionship, sympathy, prayers, hope, time. Then there are the material gifts: baby clothes, toys, books, and care items, ready-to-heat meals (that's a biggie)...and of course we were blown away when you donated $3,700 to Janet's head shaving fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

It's precisely because of this generosity that we've hesitated in asking for more. But Molly Weeks Crumbley offered to set up a donation page to help defray our medical costs, and I don't mind telling you that the expenses associated with cancer treatment caught us off guard. Long story short - Blue Cross/Blue Shield Federal offers great maternity coverage, but their cancer coverage leaves a lot to be desired.

Our gofundme page has been up for less than 48 hours, and you've already contributed over a thousand dollars. Janet and I both are simply overcome with emotion. Some of you have boosted the signal by sharing our page with your own friends, resulting in donations from folks that we don't even know. What is there to say? Thank you. You've given us comfort, hope, and peace of mind. I hope we can repay you in kind."

I don't know how we'll ever be able to repay everyone for their support and generosity, but I promise you, we will do everything we can to pay it back or pay it forward. We thank you, and we love you.

Adding to this week of spoils, I picked up a mystery package from the post office this week. It was from an organization called Lisa's Army, and it was a comfort package that my mother-in-law nominated me for. The package has hand sanitizer, lotion, Chapstick, peppermints and Queasy Pops, Kleenex, super soft socks, an extra soft pre-tied head covering, a journal, two coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, a pen, a Sudoku puzzle book, a deck of cards, a water bottle, an inspirational banner, a card, a cozy fleece blanket, a bag to hold it all...and an iPad. It's full of all of the things that make those long hours in an infusion chair more tolerable, and it's such an amazing gift. Yes, I cried again.

Finally, here are some more pictures from our maternity shoot, from our photographer's blog. Doug Crowther is an amazing photographer, and we could not be happier with the pictures. If you are in the Baltimore area and looking for a photographer for maternity, newborn, or family photos, do yourself a favor and check him out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My water (bottle) broke

So I promised you a funny story from a recent doctor appointment. Here it is.

My doctor's nurse is pregnant and exactly two weeks behind me (for those paying close attention, that makes her baby due the same day as my baby brother's baby!). At our appointment two weeks ago, she was training a new person to fill in while she's out on maternity leave; I'm pretty sure it was her first day.

She got my vitals and led us into the exam room. I've always got a water bottle with me, and unfortunately, the lid to my favorite bottle has started to fail, and it opened while we walked down the hall. I realized it as we entered the exam room, and I said to her, "Oh, watch your step, my water just leaked."

I didn't think anything of it until I set my bag down and saw her stricken face. Apparently, "my water just leaked" is not a thing a 36-weeks-pregnant woman should say to her nurse on the nurse's first day on the job. I hurried to explain what I meant, though it was somewhat more difficult as I was laughing so hard I was in tears.

Kevin and I were still cleaning up the water (which had pooled in the bottom of my purse), when Dr. K, his regular nurse, and the new nurse came in, all still laughing about the scare I gave the poor nurse.

And maybe I had difficulty keeping a straight face last week when I saw her again.

Friday, June 10, 2016

More milestones

Today marks Taxol number five, total chemo number nine, and two weeks til induction.

That means that we are just two weeks away from meeting Baby B, and I am over halfway through chemotherapy.

That means today is a celebration.

A celebration for me these days isn't very exciting though...I would have considered trying to convince Kevin we should go get frozen yogurt except that I just took a nice, warm, bubbly bath and then put on my pajamas. Wait, wait, he just came downstairs and told me he wanted to make a run to Total Wine for beer. Now he can pick us up some sort of frozen treat, and that is even better. Thanks, love! (Update: he got black cherry chocolate chunk. It was a winner.)

So yes, a celebration. I have been writing this blog now for about three months. It seems weird that my cancer journey started just over three months ago. Sometimes it seems like it's been going on a lot longer than that; other times, like this moment, it seems impossible it's been that long. Kevin remarked while I was working on dinner that I've been pregnant the entire year. That too seems crazy, but not as crazy as the fact that I'll be holding the product of that pregnancy in my arms in under 15 days.

This week was crazy full of trips to GBMC. Monday was a non-stress test and ultrasound, where baby did great, as usual. Tuesday was an appointment with the oncology PA, where everything was fine. Wednesday I should have gone to get my pre-chemo blood work done but didn't because I couldn't bear the thought of having to be there every day this week. Thursday I had my blood drawn (fortunately, they had the results in time this morning), had my non-stress test and ultrasound, plus my weekly exam with the OB (where we lowered one of my insulin doses--yay!), and then an appointment with my asthma doctor, where he increased my daily inhaler dose since I've been having more and more trouble breathing lately. My spirometry test (a measurement of lung function) was good though, so he wasn't too concerned. He said it could be the acid reflux from pregnancy that is causing the asthma, on top of the baby running out of room. He gave me samples for the increased dose, which saves me somewhere between $50 and $150 on prescriptions. Have I mentioned how much I like him?

I was on my own for my infusion today, as Kevin's mother had another commitment and I didn't want to bother anyone else, particularly since I know how well I've been tolerating this medication. I missed the company and winning in Phase 10, but I used the time to cross off a bunch of items from my to do list and even shut my eyes for a few minutes. My oncologist came by to say hello, since he was out of town for a conference when I had my appointment on Tuesday. We talked a bit about how I was feeling, a bit about the Orioles, and a bit about the excitement of the coming baby. He told me he was impressed I was still wearing my Fitbit, but when I told him not to be and showed him my meager steps for the day, he said something about how embarrassing it would have been if I was ahead of him. I agreed and told him I'll worry about my step count when I'm not pregnant and undergoing chemo. Have I mentioned how much I like him?

As I was leaving the hospital, my phone rang, and it was one of the office staff whom I adore. She was calling to see if I'd left yet, because she came looking for me to give me a gift she'd picked up for me. It was a sweet picture frame that says "God danced on the day you were born." As I opened it, she said if I wasn't religious, she'd exchange it for something else. I told her it was all good; I'm a deacon. She also had a card that most of the office staff and nurses had signed for me. Have I mentioned how much I like them?

I'm feeling pretty good this evening, better than all week, actually, so that's nice. I was even able to run some errands on my way home from chemo, so we're stocked up on household supplies for a couple of months. I had energy to cook dinner for the first time this week, and it was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

We also got our maternity pictures back today, and we are so very pleased with them. They were taken by Kevin's sister's good friend, Douglas Crowther, and he is fantastic. We've already booked him for newborn shots. A few of our favorites:

Holding our favorite books from childhood.

Reading to Baby B, complete with Grover's voice.
This weekend will be busy busy busy again. We're meeting a friend in the morning to pick up a changing table, then going to buy a deep freezer, then coming home so I can rest before friends come over in the evening. Sunday, we'll meet my brother-in-law's cousin to pick up a donation of breast milk, then (energy hopefully permitting) go to a cookout with more friends, and afterwards meet Debbi the Car Seat Lady to make sure our car seat is safely installed for Baby B. At some point, we will also set up the new changing table, the playpen (so we have a place to change baby and for baby to nap when we're hanging out in the basement), and the stroller. We also need to find and hang curtains in the nursery, but that's a bit lower on the must-do list since we at least have blinds in there and the baby will sleep in our room for the first little while.

Oh, so my hair is growing back, but it's super weird. There are still a couple of patches where I never fully lost the hair, and those actually appear to be thinning this week. That hair is coarser and darker than the very fine, almost translucent peach fuzz that is now sprouting all over my head, on both the previously bald areas and the patchy areas. The nurse today said it was very normal, but she agreed it was kind of weird.

And my sister informed me the Bitmoji app finally has pregnant character options, and I figured out how to make myself bald, so my Bitmoji looks like me again! It's a little ridiculous how much this pleases me. But come on, look at it! The only thing is my eyebrows aren't nearly that dark anymore. They're a lot thinner, too. And my belly is a lot bigger. I'm still hoping my belly button will pop out. (Kevin's note: While Janet was writing, I saw her check her belly button to see if it had made any progress.)
 And on that note...good night! More soon, because there's a funny story I forgot to mention last week. And soon we'll take nursery pictures to share. Maybe I'll even share a baby bump picture.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Cleft Team Visit and Taxol #4

I love GMBC, honest true I do. But I'm getting pretty tired of it. Four days this week, and the shortest (by far) visit was 40 minutes.

Tuesday: non-stress test and ultrasound

Wednesday: blood work for chemo (has to be done on Wednesdays)

Thursday: cleft team prenatal appointment, non-stress test, growth ultrasound, regular OB exam

Friday: chemo

I talked with my OB yesterday and the oncology nurse today about stopping work. As hard as I've tried, and as much as I'd like to finish out the school year, I've realized it just isn't feasible. Round 3 of Taxol was a lot harder on me than the previous rounds, and the effects are lingering longer and more noticeably each week. My blood sugar has been wacky several days this week, and starting off the day with low blood sugar leaves a hangover effect that tends to wipe me out even on a good day. This means I've been late getting in to work a few times, after waiting for it to stabilize and to feel safe driving. On top of that, I have leave early at least twice a week - I'm only there for four days as it is - and all those times when I'm feeling too puny to see a kid when I've scheduled them (which seems to happen at least twice a day), and it turns out I'm just not able to do my job effectively anymore.
My OB said, 'of course! I'm surprised you made it this far' when I asked about the possibility of going out on leave early. He suggested that I go through oncology though, since they often have to fight for benefits to start at 38 weeks, and I'm looking to start at 36. He also said that the cumulative effects from the chemo are what is making it so much more difficult for me to maintain any stamina, so I don't even feel guilty (not that I would...necessarily).

My oncology nurse today printed the forms for me (since I was super S-M-R-T and left the ones I'd had prepared in the back of my car, which we did not take to the hospital today) and sent them over to the person who completes them. I should have them back by Monday, and they're going to write me out effective Tuesday. I decided that would give me one more day to transition/prepare the rest of my clients, box up my office for the summer months, and wrap up any little items I have left. I'm considering asking my supervisor about working from home for a few more days, as he had a couple of projects I could work on that don't require seeing kids, but I'm not sure how that will play into the disability benefits or if it would unnecessarily complicate things.

The cleft team appointment was helpful. It gave us an idea of what to expect for our first appointment with Baby B, which will be in August at their next cleft team day, and we got our questions about feeding answered, as much as we could without knowing the severity of the cleft anyway.

The genetic counselor said that we'll meet with the genetics doctor at our first visit with baby and that she will do an exam looking for subtle markers that could be indicative of a chromosomal and/or genetic defect that may have caused the cleft. She'll also do a brief exam on both Kevin and me, since sometimes they can be seen inside the mouths of parents (interesting, huh?). Then she'll let us know whether she thinks genetic testing would be appropriate for us and we can decide what we want to do.

The speech/feeding pathologist told us about the types of bottles that they have found to work the best for cleft palate babies. Cleft lip only babies typically don't have trouble feeding, but cleft palate babies almost always do. There are two pathologists on the cleft team, and one of them will meet with us when the baby is born to help us figure out what we need. If the baby is born after her work hours, we'll see her once she gets in. We will finger feed (using a syringe) if needed until she is able to meet us.

The audiologist came in to explain the two hearing screenings that every baby born at the hospital receives before discharge and which our child will have as well. We will have more hearing screenings over time, especially if there's a cleft palate, since that can affect a child's hearing.

We asked to talk with the dietician as well, since we will have donated breast milk (thanks to two of my brother-in-law's incredibly generous cousins, Saunders and Elizabeth!) for somewhere around 5-6 weeks. She recommended feeding the breast milk exclusively for the first six weeks (or as long as we can), and she's going to look to see if there's any literature about what is best after that period if we continue to have some breast milk available to us.

I'm sure we will have an overload of information at our August appointment, so it was nice to see how the process will work and have a better idea of what to expect. Plus, as is always true at GBMC, everyone was excellent and friendly and above-and-beyond helpful.

Chemo today was uneventful; my labs were good, I got my egg salad sandwich from the excellent volunteer, Alan, and we were finished and headed home by 1:30, orange cream slush in hand (take that, low blood sugar! Don't worry. It was a small one, and I didn't drink it all.). Debbie and I passed on Phase 10 in lieu of cross stitching; she had a project she's trying to finish for the cross stitch shop where she works a couple of days a week, and she brought me a small (easy) project to work on as well. It's a little pillow you can hang on a door knob that says "Baby Sleeping" with a simple little flower design. It's only the second project I've worked on since meeting the Brotzmans, and it was on a linen fabric rather than the Aida I used before. It turns out linen is much more difficult than the larger and more even Aida, so I didn't get much done. Nonetheless, it was fun to be crafty again. I have done very little crafting since getting pregnant, since my hands and wrists are so cranky. I still want to make the baby a couple of things; I really should get on it.

Baby will be here in three weeks. THREE! Holy moly. I'm so excited. Also, it's time to go wash some baby clothes and linens so we can have them ready.