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The Power of Love

Celine Dion – The Power of Love

The Power of Love
Surviving cancer takes great courage and great strength from both the patient and the caregiver. Fighting and beating cancer as a couple is not for the faint of heart. It takes dedication, commitment, courage and unparalleled love. When those four ingredients come together though, you have a recipe for HOPE.

This post is not about me or my cancer or my relationship. It is about Cameron, a caregiver who was able to love his wife through cancer and keep love and hope alive while doing it. Please read Cameron’s guest post (below) and when you do remember this….Even in the face of cancer, fairy tales do come true and Hope rides off into the sunset on a great white horse!

Fighting Back with Hope

My wife was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma on November 21, 2005. I was not prepared at all to become a caregiver to a cancer patient. Heather had just given birth to our daughter, Lily, three months before the diagnosis, and until that point we had been blissfully enjoying being new parents. We expected to be joyously spending the holidays with our newborn, not fighting for my wife’s life.

The doctor told us about mesothelioma and the options we had. We could go to a local hospital or a regional hospital nearby, neither one having the ideal resources to treat this form of cancer, or we could travel to Boston to see a renowned mesothelioma doctor. My wife was silent, too afraid and shocked by the news to digest these options. I knew she needed help, and I knew that if she were going to have any chance of beating this disease, she would need the best care possible. I turned to the doctor and said, “Get us to Boston!”

Our dual income household was reduced to one part-time income as Heather left her job to fight her battle and I struggled to balance work, doctor’s appointments and caring for our daughter. The stress from taking care of everything and the thought that Heather would die from cancer overwhelmed me, and I found myself on the kitchen floor crying more than once. However, I was always careful to hide these moments from Heather. I had to be strong for her, and the last thing she needed was to see just how scared I truly was.

Luckily, I had others to lean on. We were blessed with comforting words, helpful hands and even financial assistance from family, friends and strangers. I can never thank them enough for the things they did to help, both big and small. The best piece of advice I can give any caregiver is: if someone offers help, take it. The caregiver’s role is difficult, and you cannot simply walk away. It’s okay to have bad days, but you can’t let the emotions take you hostage. There is always hope.

It has been seven years since Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis, and I am happy to say that after months and months of painful and difficult treatments, she is now cancer-free. Our daughter has been able to grow up having her mother, and we could not be more thankful to all the people who helped us through this tough time.

Throughout this ordeal, I learned organization and time management skills. More importantly, I gained the courage I needed to pursue my own dreams. I decided to go back to college and earn my degree in Information Technology. A few short years later, I graduated with high honors and was the graduation speaker of my class. My speech had one large message: never give up hope. I think the most important thing I learned throughout the past seven years is that our imaginations cannot fathom what we are capable of accomplishing if we simply remember to believe in ourselves, and never stop fighting for the ones we love.

THANK YOU CAMERON!! All my love, Andrea

 

Aftermath…

I write.  It is what I do when I don’t know what else to do.  My writing is as much a part of me as my heart is. 

So, I don’t have cancer anymore and life is beautiful and brand new to me.  I am finally not anemic anymore and all of the accompanying annoyances from that have thankfully gone away.  My energy during the day is back in full force.  I still get tired earlier in the evening than I did before but it’s a small price to pay.  My hair is back and every morning as I put gel or mousse or whatever in it and blow dry it, my soul sings with gladness.  I know my soul isn’t connected to my hair but it sure does my soul good to have it back. 

I am emotional lately.  I cry at the drop of a hat and not because I take Tamoxifen but because I am so overflowing with emotion.  I am alive.  I am so relieved.  I am so unbelievably grateful for yet another second chance at life.  I am feeling all the feelings I pushed away while I was fighting.  I am letting the tears flow because they are mine and I earned them.  I am proud as hell to feel them and lucky as hell to be alive to have them.

The anniversary of my diagnosis came and went with a whisper.  I am a one year cancer survivor.  I read early on in my cancer journey that it would take a year for me to feel like my new breast was a part of my body.  I have found that to be true.  It has been quite the journey to find my self-confidence again and to feel beautiful again.  I looked in the mirror this morning and was proud of my breasts.  Both of them!  I was ashamed at my body and what had happened to it for a while.  Accepting it, just like grieving it, has been a tremendous process for me.  It has been equally difficult, if not moreso, to see myself as beautiful again.  For the longest time, I prayed every day and asked G-d to remove the sin of vanity and He did.  When I no longer needed to ask that, I had to find it again – my vanity.  Now I ask G-d to show me my beauty and He is doing that for me also.

My cup runneth over and right now it overwhelms me and frightens me.  But I will not shrink from it or anything else because I went through hell to be able to have this cup, whatever it is…

If you’ve read this, thank you and I hope you enjoyed it and felt my energy and passion in it.  If you didn’t that is fine too because this post I wrote only for me.

the “c” word!!!

And the word of the day is….. cyst!  And the word of the day is also not cancer!!!

About two months ago, I found a lump in my right breast during my monthly self-exam.  I cannot describe the fear that shot threw me.  My hopes and dreams crashed to the floor.  My mind began racing and it wasn’t pretty. 

I saw my oncologist recently.  I didn’t tell her about the spot in my right breast.  However, she found it on her own and said it felt ok and “you’re having your mammogram in April anyway”.  I left that appointment thinking the wait until April would kill me. 

Remarkably, I think I’m completely unwilling and then find the phone in my hand begging the radiology department of Kaiser to push my  mammogram appointment to the beginning of March.  I just had to know.

So today was a carbon copy of my mammogram last year in many ways.  I had to put a very pretty sticker over a not-so-pretty lump in my breast.  I was told that they would need to do a sonagram to investigate the lump further.  I sat in that same room again and held my breath as the radiologist rolled the machine across my chest.  I held my breath and looked at the screen.  And there it was.  A perfect circle.  I saw it and the radiologist said, “it’s just a cyst”.  Never before has a fluid-filled sac seemed so miraculous and wonderful!!! 

Last year, I went alone to my mammogram.  This year, Trent met me there and was in the waiting room when I came out.  Last year, when I looked at the screen of the sonogram my heart sunk.  I had a black mass that covered a ton of the sceen and was far from circular or even.  Last year, I was told I needed a biopsy and the weight in the room was enormous.  This year, the radiologist was so happy for me.  I was so happy for me.

I finally will be able to sleep tonight knowing for sure that I don’t have cancer in my right breast.  I’m so glad I went.  This is, finally, the “c” word I wanted to hear!

Lately, things have felt difficult for me.  I suppose the pink cloud of not having to go back to chemo has worn off.  I am in no way ungrateful for my newfound health and my new hair growth.  I am, however, quite aware of all that I have lost also.

At times, I find it surreal that I actually lost my breast.  Other times, I grieve for it and miss it terribly.  The craziest things can cause me emotional pain these days…. Bathing suits, bras, lingerie.  

And of course, I haven’t left breast cancer in the dust.  I have a mammogram scheduled one week from today.  It hasn’t been quite a year since my last one but I literally can’t bear to wait until April to do it. 

The universe still has a sense of humor though.  I called Kaiser for the mammogram appointment and the scheduler said, “I see you’ve had breast cancer”.  Yes, I say.  “You’ve had a mastectomy?”.  Yes, I say.  “So we’ll be filming both breasts?”  Um, no, I say.  I only have one now.  “Do you have an implant”, she says.  Becoming irritated now, I respond.  Yup!  “So we’ll need to x-ray that?”.   G-d how I wish I didn’t have a filter sometimes and could just say exactly what I’m thinking….  In the end, I explained to her that there is no breast tissue to x-ray on that side and that an implant doesn’t become cancerous….  It can’t be easy being so stupid…. The poor thing.

O and there’s the hair.  I’m ecstatic to have hair.  I mean being bald was unbelievably hard.  I think, though, had I worn my hair short before this may have been easier.  As it is, though, my hair was halfway down my back prior to my diagnosis.  I was able to wear it up, down, pinned, etc.  This new short hair is a big change for me and while I’m thrilled to have it, I cannot help but miss my long, long hair sometimes.  Like my breast, I sometimes cry because I miss it so much.

Finally, there’s Tamoxifen, hot flashes and menopause at age 45.  The Tamoxifen isn’t too bad but it does cause joint pain.  The hot flashes are hardly bothersome really.  Menopause is a cakewalk too really.  In fact, I am suffering none of the common symptoms of menopause really.  BUT, I am 45.  I couldn’t have gotten pregnant safely at this age but I still hate the fact that cancer destroyed my fertility – regardless of how weak and waning it may have been. 

Nine months ago, I had two breasts, long hair, my time of the month, and was a size 4.  So sometimes this is still hard as hell.  But nobody said it would be easy and I’m going to keep on keeping on.  Keep on moving on…Or trying anyway.

Update…

Hi.  I haven’t written in a long time.  I have taken a semester off from cancer, if you will.  I have spent the last five months (yes it has been that long since I finished my last chemo) regrouping, recuperating, recovering and rejoicing.  

The human body is an amazing thing.  It has been interesting and amazing watching and feeling my body slowly, slowly come back to a state of health.   Bit by bit, day by day, improvements took place.  The flush came back to my cheeks, the light came back into my eyes, my energy returned, the state of perpetual trauma moved slowly away (picture a big, puffy cloud slowly moving across the sky and into the horizon).  And, last and certainly far from least, my hair started to grow.  My eyelashes came back and they are long and luxurious and I love them.  My eyebrows came back and my face has definition again.  It has been a miracle to be inside this G-d-crafted shell and feel it go from broken and battered to well. 

Speaking of well, it has been years since I have felt so good.  I know now that all the crazy illnesses and freak infections I have had over the past few years were because my immune system was fighting cancer and not working so well for the every day bacteria, etc. in my environment.  I had sinus infections that required round after round of antibiotic, I got cat scratch fever (wow, i know), I had periods where my left ankle got ridiculously swollen and nobody could tell me why….the list goes on.  All the crazy ailments have gone away.  I feel great.  Ahhhhhhhhh!!! 

Tomorrow I am scheduled to go back for my first of many three month oncology visits.  I went for my blood work last week and found out  my tumor marker went down by 7 points.  This is good.  I had been on the very highest edge of normal and now I am squarely in the normal range. 

However, any trip to oncology causes trepidation and fear.  I lay on the table and endure the breast exam – hardly breathing – until it is over and I’m told everything feels normal.  I am hopeful that tomorrow, all will be normal again, and I can sit back and watch another season go by…cancer-free.

Monday, monday…

On Monday, I go back to my oncologist for my first official follow up visit.  I had my blood drawn yesterday and while my counts aren’t perfect yet, they do seem slightly more healthy than they were in September before my last chemo.

I am not happy about having to go back.  I am scheduled for a tumor marker blood test every three months for the next two years.  If the number goes up, well I have cancer somewhere else (or I have some benign issue that can also raise the marker).  If the number stays put or goes down, I’m in remission. 

Here is my problem with that test.  If the cancer has come back as a metastisis, I will be in the incurable group of breast cancer patients.  There is such a thing as “palliative care” which means living on chemo and I’m not sure that is the kind of living I want to do.

In this age of endless information, I still believe in the need to know basis.  I still believe that some information is too much information.  If I am dying (which we all are), I don’t want to know.  It would be one thing if that test could prevent the unavoidable outcome but it cannot.

So, I am going to my oncologist on Monday and asking her to explain to me what the benefits are of my taking that tumor marker test.  Unless she can tell me that someone’s life has changed for the good after their numbers have gone up, I’m going to respectfully decline that test in the future.

I am committed (still) to being my own advocate and standing firm in my beliefs for my life.  After all, I’m the one who lives it.

Permission…

I have been healing.  I have been giving myself permission to just be and to let my heart and soul recover.  I have been a bit of a hibernator lately and I’m enjoying it. 

On many nights, I have come home from work and made dinner while Trent goes to the meetings we used to go to together.  I am taking this quiet time alone in the comfort of my home to let the wounds heal.  I am praying and finding relief.  I am feeling calm and peaceful and comfortable in my own skin.

I am giving myself permission to move forward without constant fear and worry.  I may have fear at a future mammogram or oncology appt. but until then, fear is no longer my companion. 

I am being still and it feels so good.

Coming out of the dark!!!

I’m back.  I haven’t written in a long time because I’ve been overwhelmed (understatement). 

I ran out of steam at the end there and it was all I could do to find the willingness to take the Tamoxifen and move on to this last phase of my treatment. 

But, I did it.  I prayed for the willingness.  I took the action and picked up the prescription and left it on my nighttable.  The first morning, I woke up and looked at it and thought, “not today, bitch”.  The second morning, the bottle looked up at me and said, “well, do ya want to live or not?”.  I took the pill and fully prepared for hot flashes that would make all sweaters and coats permanently unnecessary.  I prepared for all the CRAP I made the mistake of reading about on the internet.

MATHEMATICAL EQUATION:

ANDREA + internet – G-d = FEAR-BASED INSANITY!!!

I haven’t been taking it for a week  yet but….So far, my appetite seems slightly suppressed (YAY); my desire for diet coke is gone (OK, the shit is bloating anyway, I guess), my mood is fine, my hair did NOT fall out again as predicted by the internet, I have felt a few tinges of being overly warm in the  morning as I wake up.   FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, I AM FINE!!!!!

In fact, I’m feeling pretty darn good.  I have a five o’clock shadow on my head.  I tweezed my eyebrows this morning!!!  I can’t wear mascara yet, but my lashes are growing back!!!  I shaved my armpits for the first time since sometime in July after chemo started!!  I used nail polish remover today and it wasn’t excruciating!!! 

I made dinner; I cleaned the bathtub myself and didn’t nearly collapse from weakness in the process; I went to the movies with Trent; we went to the supermarket; I drove home bald cause at this point, who cares?; I made dinner; I emailed a friend; I am writing on my blog and I’M NOT TIRED YET.

Look out!!!!  I’m on the road.  You see it?  The one above???  You can’t see me in but I’m there.  I’m up ahead where the light is.  You know, the light that Trent PROMISED he could see way back when???  I’m walking toward it people and, for the record, that forest was a dang nightmare! 

I have a long road back to wholeness but FINALLY, I see that road and I’m happy as FUCKALL to be on it for as long as it will have me.

Next stop, Tamoxifen.

I am supposed to start taking tamoxifen in a week.  That is the estrogen blocker.  Let me tell you how UNprepared emotionally I feel about that!!!  Completely and utterly unprepared.  It is supposedly a five-year treatment.  I keep looking at it like OMG I can’t do that for five years.  And then,

It occurred to me.  I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.  I can commit to maybe trying it out.  If my whole world falls apart, I can rethink the whole thing. 

This shit is just as scary to me as chemo; maybe scarier.  I am a girl.  I think I kind of love my estrogen.  Well, except for the fact that it could kill me.

ARGH.  I so want to just walk away and do nothing.  But,

I wanted to walk away and do nothing when I heard the word cancer but look at me now.  I have had the cancer removed surgically and have had chemo too.  I didn’t walk away.  I did the hard stuff.  I’ll probably do this next hard thing too.

Kicking and screaming all the way…