"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."


SCT Part 1 - Here's the plan...

Ok, so I met with my sct doc today as well as infusion therapy regarding my picc line. Signed away my life, literally, with sct doc and had a tour of the aspherasis department. I am getting admitted tomorrow night and will most likely stay 5 days. This part of the chemo is only two of the three drugs I had with ICE. Now I'll just be getting the I and the E parts, only at slightly higher dosages. After getting out of the hospital I will start giving myself Neupogen shots on Day 6, which should put me at Tuesday. I'm still not clear how long I will be giving myself the shots, but I'm thinking it should not be more than a week. After that comes the collection part. I go to the hospital and stay hooked up for around 4 hours each day until they collect 5 million stem cells! (I'm hoping I can get it done in one day, again the overachiever in me coming out!). They tell me it is all quite boring. Boring I can handle. Boring I like. And that is the end of Part 1.

Tomorrow morning I go in to get my picc line removed (yay!) and my cvc line in my chest inserted. The picc lines are just too thin for the huge amounts of blood that will be collected and restored in me, so I get some fatter lines in my chest. Get to go home for the rest of the afternoon until admission time, which should be around 7 p.m.

It was a very busy day today. After leaving the hospital, I stopped by my office to see my wonderful boss and colleagues. I can't believe it's been 2 months since I haven't been at work! Time has just flown by. It was so nice seeing everyone, but I forgot my camera!!! Oh well, I'll go back after the sct and take some pics to post.

I also went shopping today. Not just any kind of shopping, like for groceries, gas, for the kids, etc... No, this was shopping just for mommy, me, Brandy. It was nice to have a little retail therapy. I even bought myself a new digital camera lens for my Nikon. Up until now, I've been using my film lens. Watch out Ansel Adams. LOL!

Although I'm a little anxious and nervous (ok, a lot!), I am just so ready to get this over with. I should have a laptop while I'm in the hospital, so I will try to post updates as often as I can.



It's not about me...and why I can't have flowers...

I'm half asleep and I realized that all this I am going through is for my kids. I want to live for them. I am surviving for them. They give me strength. And being away from them for nearly the entire month of October is going to be so hard on them as well as myself. Especially when I will most likely be in the hospital over Olivia's birthday. Here I was thinking of myself, worried how I would be doing in the hospital alone and yet my kids are going to be the ones suffering more. I am all they know right now, I am their security blanket and I won't be there for awhile.

So, I take back my request for gifts in the hospital. Instead, I want to brighten my kids' world as much as possible while I am gone. Would all my angels out there kindly send cards and/or gifts to my kids while I am in the hospital? I think this will only help them through this tough time. They love getting mail; a letter or card saying how brave they are, how much I love them will make their day. I plan on doing the same. My goal is to try to mail one everyday I am in the hospital. I think I will need to pre-everything (address, write and lick), that way I won't be too tired to do all that and I can just give it to the volunteer to take down to mail. For safety reasons, I won't post our address. If you would like to do this, please feel free to call or email Liz, Lara or Melinda and they will be happy to give you the information.

Oh, one more thing. I've been told that that are no plants or flowers allowed in my room and now I know the exact reason why...read on:

"Invasive fungal infections are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with profound neutropenia or with severe immunosuppression. As Aspergillus and other mould species are ubiquitous, numerous reservoirs have been identified. Mould infection in susceptible patients results basically from respiratory exposure to conidia present in the air and on objects that surround the patients. In this review, protective environmental measures directed at airborne transmission and other less frequent mechanisms of transmission of moulds, as well as their effectiveness, are analysed."

Ok, so now plants or flowers - got it? :-)



We are good to go!

Just got a call from my case manager that insurance has approved the transplant!! WOOHOO!! This morning I see the dentist to replace this temp filling with a permanent one, and I was just now able to chew without any pain and there he goes again irritating my poor tooth again! Then, I am scheduled to see the sct doctor Tuesday and I'm sure I'll be getting admitted either that day or Wednesday to start the collection process.

Finally, things are rolling along again.



Just my luck...

Ok, so over the weekend I started getting this sharp pain in the same tooth that got filled last week at the dentist's office. Uh-oh, not a good sign. Sure enough, after squeezing me in they said I needed to have either a root canal or extract the tooth. WHAT?!?! So much for not doing any major work on my teeth, per the sct dept's nurse. I had my dentist talking with the sct department to ok the root canal. Once I got the green light we were good to go, or so I thought. Insert needle here and wait 10 minutes. I'm supposed to be waiting for my lip to get numb but nothing. Ok, insert shot number 2 and wait 10 minutes. Ummm, still nothing. What is going on here? So, with a partially numb mouth my dentist (who specializes in cowards, which is why I am there) says we can do it if I can let him drill really fast into my tooth even though I'm not fully numb. Welcome to my life. This is exactly why I hate dentist's office, and he confirmed that I am difficult to numb. Something about my muscles being thicker than most. I don't know, all I know is as always I felt something and that something hurt like you know what. But it was over within seconds and he was able to numb the inside of my tooth and then it was all right after that. Well, up until the anesthesia wore off - that was worse than labor, I actually had tears in my eyes. My mouth is still incredibly sore, but at least I have some nice pain meds on hand. Who knew this would be worse than chemo???? Well, I'm not completely done. He just started it and will top it off Thursday. My sct mobilization got pushed back a week, so it looks like Monday I will be starting the process. Let's hope nothing else comes up! It was my own fault anyhow, had I not procrastinated about getting the broken tooth fixed in the first place I wouldn't be here. But now you know why I don't like the dentist.

If I can get through this, I know the sct will be a breeze!

Off to brush, gurgle and rinse...



Better late than never...

In all the excitement of taking Olivia and Seth to school on their first day, I forgot to take pictures! (chemo brain at work, see?!?) It's a little late, but here they are my first and second graders. And I must say I did not cry until I was leaving....that's pretty good for me!

Olivia (a proud 2nd Grader) and Seth (excited to be in 1st Grade!)

Goofing around with their Webkinz (these things are apparently all the rage!)

Valerie sneeking in the picture!


Life as usual...

What I love about life is that it doesn't care what you are going through, the sun still rises and sets, clouds move in, it rains, then the sun shines through again and life goes on. So this is my life goes on post regarding my two sons.

I'm proud to say I have a Tiger Cub and a cubbie-to-be! Seth recently joined the Boy Scouts as a Tiger Cub and Nicholas went to his first meeting with Seth and sat intently, listening and nodding in agreement. He was so excited that he wants to join now as well. I haven't broken the bad news to him, that he has to wait until 1st grade. Poor kid! :) So, while we were out getting Seth's uniform we came across an adorable Little Scout Buddy shirt. That way I'll have a Tiger Cub and Little Scout Buddy as well. :) Here are some pics of the both of them. By the way, Seth has not taken off his uniform all weekend. He would sleep in it if he could. And he read his manual so much that the binding has already come undone and it's being held together by clear duct tape. I think the Boy Scouts is going to be a good fit for Seth. Our household is filling up quickly with boy and girl scouts. I am one proud momma. :)

Seth, the proud Tiger Cub!

Nicholas, the cubbie-to-be!



Me = 2 Cancer = Big Fat 0

Ok, so I went and had my PET/CT scan done early this morning at MDACC. I was pretty calm and relaxed considering this test would show any cancer activity. Normally, results don't get back to the doctor until the next day. So when I went in to see my doctor to discuss rescheduling the mobilization chemo since my insurance had not yet approved the procedure, I was completely shocked and surprised when the first thing out of her mouth was that I was in REMISSION!! It didn't sink in at first, so I asked her to repeat that. Of course, I started bawling and hugging her. I was hoping for remission and felt good, but I was not thinking she would have the results so soon. WOOHOO!!! I thanked God, I thanked my doctor, I thanked all my friends and family across the country praying for me. Thank you.

So, back to the sct process. My insurance case manager said I should have an approval either late this afternoon or definitely Monday. Now, we're looking at admission to the hospital either Tuesday or Wednesday. And for some more good news, I will only be getting 3 days of chemo and not 5. What a relief! Could this day get any better??? My onc said if there are any cancer cells lingering around that did not show up on the PET, these next two rounds of chemo will get rid of it. Not only did I get the awesome news that the cancer is gone, but I also get to spend the next few days feeling good and relaxing before the next part of this process begins.

There are two other young gentlemen who are going through the same exact treatment and we're scheduled to have the sct around the same time. It'll be nice to know I won't be alone on the sct floor during my 3 week stay. :)

I have been so appreciative and grateful for all the angels around me. I normally don't play the 'cancer card', but after reading Crazy, Sexy Cancer Tips that my dear friend Melinda sent there was a whole section on this, and some people have asked how they could reach me at the hospital. So, if you feel like sending me something to rally me on, I will gladly accept it. I mean, if I can't ask for gifts when I have cancer then when can I?!? :) So, while I'm in the hospital for the 3 week stay I will gladly be accepting gifts, cards and/or balloons of all kinds - Happy Birthday, Get Well, Congrats, Just Because...LOL!! But please don't feel obligated, I promise to still love you with or without the gifts....pinky promise!

Here is how you can reach me:

Brandy H. Vargas
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
1515 Holcombe Blvd
Houston, TX 77030
1-800-392-1611 / 1-713-792-6161

But, first things first. I need to collect these stem cells and that will get done over the next few weeks. So, off to celebrate with my family the wonderful news we got today. Keep those prayers coming, they are so working!!!!

With Much, Much Love,


On again, off again....

Well, as of Tuesday the insurance had not approved it. They had required I meet with the social worker as a condition upon approval. The sct nurse said they just want to make sure I'm not crazy - I guess they don't want to pay for looney people or they want to make sure they get their money's worth??? Gosh, if they only knew the real me....haha!! j/k

Friday is still up in the air. If I am not approved, I will not be admitted and if I am approved then I will be. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. I did go to the dentist today and everything is good to go! Did I ever mention my phobia of the dentist? That's a whole other blog.

Tomorrow I have absolutely nothing planned or scheduled! YAY! It's been such a busy week of running around, hospital visits, scans, dentist appt.,etc...I finally have a day off to relax and get ready for Friday's long day at the hospital. The day begins with a PET scan, meet with sct doctor and then meet with my lymphoma doctor before possibly getting admitted. Think NED, think NED, think NED (no evidence of disease). Or at least shrinkage of the tumor. They will still do the sct even if I am not in full remission, but I would like to be in full remission. Just the over-achiever in me coming out. :)


Chemo Brain is 4 REAL!!

It's a known fact that people who receive chemo treatments tend to get a little fuzzy in the brain area. That's been a real struggle for me. I have always had an excellent memory but lately my brain and the rest of my body are just not in sync. If you ever scratch your head after reading something on this blog and wonder "What the hell did she just say?!?", it's really not me being stupid but rather it's CHEMO BRAIN! It's even worse in person. I am so glad I am not working and having to interact with people on a daily basis. Most times I'll be talking like a normal person, but then words sneak out that make absolutely no sense whatsoever and I don't catch myself until after they've come out. Sometimes words don't even get a chance to come out at all, but rather my tongue gets stuck to the roof of my gum and all I can muster is blah-blah-blah because I can't seem to put the words together to make a coherent sentence! Prime example of chemo brain at it's best - I am trying really hard to remember something I said today and then had to laugh off due to chemo brain but I can't even give you an example...it's that bad. I think I'll start a chemo brain moment list, it should be real fun to read after treatment is over.

Thankfully, chemo brain is only temporary. So, what's your excuse??? :P


From 0-60 in a matter of seconds...

Ok, so as of Friday my timeline was something like this - 3 weeks until my restaging tests (CT/PET/Bone Marrow) and then start the SCT process. We were still waiting on my insurance to approve and it could take this long. So, I was preparing myself for a late Sept. start. I was ok with that. I was actually looking forward to a little break, having a few weeks of feeling good rather than one. I was starting to plan a surprise birthday party for Gabriel, do some shopping, etc...Although it was moving slower than I had anticipated, I was starting to look forward to the down time.

Someone turned on warp speed and I'm still trying to catch my breath. I got my schedule in the hospital and it turns out my insurance must have approved the sct procedure because all of a sudden I am booked through September. I have a complete lung function test this Friday, my CT scans next Tuesday and then my PET scan next Friday, the 14th. I am also scheduled to be admitted that day. Admitted for what, I don't know but I am assuming it will be part 1 of the sct process - mobilization of my stem cells. So, that's 5 days of chemo and then coming back to collect my stem cells. Wow, I was hoping it would be this soon but I was getting used to having a break from chemo. Now, I am just trying to figure out what to do first and if I am really, really ready to do this. It's kind of like giving birth I guess, whether or not you're ready it's going to happen. I also hate the fact I will be admitted the day before Gabriel's birthday. I feel so bad! Since we've been married something always happens near his birthday and it's always been an inside joke between us, like what's going to happen this year?? Gosh, at this rate I think we're going to skip his birthday for a while. I just wanted to make him something special and now I'll be in the hospital and he'll be alone with 4 kids. Happy Birthday, Baby.


Treatment # 3 - CHECK!

Ok, so my doctor's office called and asked if I could come in an hour earlier...something about labor day weekend, doctor's plans, I don't know....lol. So, my sister and I head off to the hospital for my final round of salvage chemo.

Here is one of the lovely lymphoma dept. nurses, Clover, who has been my angel this entire time.

One of the many puzzles located throughout the waiting room, this one was fairly simple and yet my sister had the urge to pull apart every little piece. :)

After getting the go ahead for round # 3 (my blood count was good!), receiving my admission papers and since the usual wait for admission to MDACC is hours long, we met my dad at Mo Mong's, a local restaurant for some yummy spring rolls, pot stickers and rice!

Since I was with my crazy sister and we still had a few hours to spare, we hit the roads of Houston and acted like whacky tourists!

Here we are in front of this fountain that I must have driven by millions of times since living in Houston!

Ok, if I wasn't a cone head before....

We unknowingly parked right next to this park. I had no idea this was here, all the time I've lived here, so I took it as a very good sign.

So, my sister had never been to the Houston Zoo, well she wasn't missing anything but it was a chance to check something off her life list....

Ok, it seems the only thing these animals were doing were sleeping, pissing or crapping....

Isn't there a joke about this??? Bear making #2!

Mighty Tiger making, a very long might I say, #1

Look, we found Nemo! (I know corny, just humor me!)

It was time for our carousel ride. Here we are before mounting my mighty meerkat and Adrienne getting on her tiny tiger. :)

After a few hours, we were hot and thirsty. To our surprise, none of the vending places were open. On our way out we stopped by the gift shop to get some water. Our luck, it was buy 1 get 2 free from the vending maching day. Shhh..just don't let the gift shop know - haha!

Well, the fun had to end sometime. It was time to check in.

Here we are waiting for my bags. Funny, whenever nurses came in Adrienne leapt out of bed.
Me pretending to know what to do at a piano table. My sister suggested dancing on it....lol!

Me and mom walking around with poley

All in all, treatment # 3 was pretty uneventful. You know you're not doing so bad when all your doctor can say is "Ok, we'll just be babysitting you." I didn't get as bad headaches either as last time. And I even got some new pain meds for this. Oh well! :) I'm just glad this part is over.