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October!

This summer, I went to Perimeter Mall to spend the day.  It was after my mastectomy and before chemo began. 

I went into Pandora and asked if they had any breast  cancer awareness jewelry and was told that they did have a charm but that in October, they would be coming out with a  pink bracelet and another charm (proceeds of which benefit Susan G. Komen Foundation).  I knew I wanted that bracelet.  I knew that in October, chemo would be over and it would be breast cancer awareness month. 

Yesterday, I got my bracelet.  October is here.  Chemo is over and breast cancer awareness information and products are everywhere.  This morning I am wearing a cozy, comfy, warm sweater.  The summer is truly over.  I have not recovered one hundred percent from my last chemo yet but next week, I do NOT have to go back for another one.  Next week, I will get to see what happens when chemo really ends.

I am grateful this morning.  The sun is shining.  Pine needles are dropping from the beautiful tree in our front yard.  Trent is sleeping and I am in remission!

Unexpected tears,

I was sitting at the computer a second ago and looking up how long it might take for my red blood cells to replenish, when I can expect hair, and just burst into tears. 

My last chemo was two weeks ago.  The tiny hairs that were growing are falling out again.  I am supposed to start taking Tamoxifen in two weeks.  I don’t know what happened to my back but suddenly walking is excruciating.  The treatment is over but the fallout (pun unintended) is not. 

I am so glad I don’t have to do chemo again next week.  I can’t wait to see what happens in week four, five and six after chemo.  I am crying now but I know that in those weeks, I’ll start feeling better and better. 

By then, some of these tears might actually be from happiness!

I am feeling feisty today!!!  I am not perfect yet but wow I feel like I’ve been dropped back into humanity again. 

Back to the topic at hand….  Don’t you just love the women in your life??? 

Not too long ago, I would not have dreamed of praising and rejoicing women.  I have changed so much from the woman I was five years ago who recoiled from women.  I was terrified of my mother and that led me to falsely believe that ALL women would frighten me and/or betray my trust.  It turns out that, as in most of the ideas I had five years ago, my theory couldn’t have been farther from the truth.   

This past weekend was filled with the love and healing power of women.  On Friday, my friend, Eve, from work brought me delicious food and sat with me.  I had the worst chemo fog ever this time and I have no clue if what I said throughout the evening made a bit of sense.  I do know that her being her was comforting and that we laughed and shared common experiences and emotions.  I know it felt good to let yet another woman a little closer to me.

On Saturday, the loveliest group of women came over to my house with flowers, fruit, pancakes, donuts, laughter and love.  We had a meeting in my living room and it was just joyous.  If you are in a 12-step program and have not been to a meeting in someone’s house, do it NOW!!  It is so powerful and healing and magical. 

The most incredible thing of all is that I asked those women to come over and have a meeting here.  I didn’t just reach out and ask for help; I reached out and asked WOMEN and only women to help.  And, they did! 

So, I’ve learned a little more from cancer.  I’ve learned that it is ok to ask for what I need.  I learned that when I ask, I get it.  I learned that my old ideas are just that – old ideas.  I learned that my new ideas not only don’t block me from women but my new ideas lead me to women.  I learned that women truly make the best band aids.

If you are reading this and enjoyed my weekend with me, please know that I love you from the bottom of my being.

Ok, now what?

I am really feeling the cumulative effects of chemo this time.  I feel particularly exhausted and achy and out of sorts this time.  I have a strong desire to jump back into the world and into my life but…my appearance so hinders me. 

I don’t know what other people see when they look at me but I see the toll this experience has taken on me.  The loss is very real to me.  And, like the chemo, my physical experience has been cumulative.  What began as a scar across my breast has blossomed into baldness, weight gain, the palest skin ever, and a ton fewer eyelashes and eyebrows.  I look in the mirror these days and am acutely aware of all I have faced.  I don’t yet see myself as a winner in this fight.  I probably won’t until I have enough hair and eyebrows to feel pretty again.

I thought there would be an internal celebration that I’m done.  Maybe after three weeks pass and I don’t have more chemo, the celebration will catch up with me.  Right now, I’m still suffering the effects of the last round.  I’m feeling so emotional and so drained.  I have always been one to motor through the rough spots in life.  When I am on the other side, I finally take the time to stop moving and experience what just happened.

So here I am.  I am done with chemo.  Now, what?

chemogirl!

 

While not a photo, that is an accurate portrayal of what I look like.  Well, minus the cape and the SKIRT.  I’m sure some women wear a skirt the day after chemo, but I’m not one of them.

Today is a mixed bag.  I’m so thrilled to have completed treatment.  I’m not feeling my worst today but not my best either.  I’m freezing, first of all.  Second of all, my brain is fried again.  I’m told I’ll get much more clarity once I start to heal and I believe it because usually right before I went back for my next treatment, I’d feel like I had a grip on my faculties again.

Last night I cried a big long cry.  I am relieved.  I am trying to really reconcile putting cancer behind me and survivor before me.  I made up my mind early on in this battle, that I would be a survivor and according to the american cancer society, one becomes a survivor at the moment of diagnosis.  It is time to say, “I had breast cancer” not “I have breast cancer”.  That feels good.

And, of course, we are right smack in the middle of the Days of Awe.  For my non-jewish friends, the Days of Awe are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  On Rosh Hashonah G-d writes our names in the book of life.  The decision made on Rosh Hashanah can be changed during the Days of Awe by making peace with people you have harmed, giving charity and I think prayer is the third thing.  During these ten days the sky is open and G-d’s mind can be changed.  On the eve of Yom Kippur, the skies are closed and the decisions are final.

I love the Days of Awe.  I love the high holy days.  I always have.  I can think of no better time to have my last chemo.  The skies are open.  My G-d is really watching.  I can’t imagine what wonder that can bring because he has carried me all the way through last year when the skies were closed. 

I have a ton of faith these days.  I have a ton of love.  When I feel better, I can’t wait to give all of my love away to all the people who have loved me though this.

today i had my last chemo treatment!!!!  my picc line was removed.  my breasts were examined and are both fine.  today I was told my cancer is in remission!!!!  I walked out of the oncologist office and into the bathroom where I stood against the door and sobbed the long awaited cry of relief.  For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can relax my focus and breathe.  I cried hard.  I took long, healing cancer-free deep breaths.  I took a moment to actually contemplate the fact that I might actually get to survive. 

Trent and I met with my oncologist and discussed the differences in my prognosis and if I did the Taxol my cure rate would be 82%.  If I don’t do the Taxol, the cure rate is 80%.  This made my decision a little easier.  Another two percent isn’t enough to entice me into three more months of hell and a very strong possibility of permanent neuropathy.

So, I am done.  I have four weeks to recover from this chemo and then I start the Tamoxifen.  I am not going to think about that now.  I am not going to think about or write about any possible negative things that could happen.  today, i was told i am cancer-free and that my prognosis is good.  that is all that matters right now! 

For now, all I have to think about is healing.  My body has been through an awful lot.  I feel it acutely.  In another three weeks, my body can start regenerating itself.  My hair can start to grow again.  and, finally, I can start to live, really LIVE, my life again!

The gamble…

Today I got an email from a nurse at Kaiser reminding me that I am supposed to see my doctor to “revisit” doing four infusions of Taxol.  I had already discussed this issue with my oncologist and made a firm decision not to do it. 

However, the nudge from the nurse terrified me and made me again question whether I am doing the right thing.  Taxol would mean another three months of chemotherapy.  Taxol has a high risk of neuropathy and according to my oncologist, most of her patients who get neuropathy end up having it for the rest of their lives (aka it is often permanent).  Neuropathy can cause numbness in the feet and numb feet make balancing and walking pretty challenging. 

Taxol, according to some literature, may not even be effective in estrogen-driven cancers.  Simply said, I could end up with permanent neuropathy for a treatment that may not even have an impact on the specific cancer I have. 

So here we are.  One chemo left.  One last gamble. 

I am sticking with my decision to forgo the Taxol.  I am focusing on what I have done to beat this cancer. 

Let’s review, shall we?  I have had a breast removed, I have had nerve endings permanently severed, I have lost eight lymph nodes, I have had reconstruction, I have endured taking opiates, I have gone from node negative cancer to node positive cancer, I have cut my long, black hair to above my shoulders, I have taken chemotherapy three times and endured the absolute hell it causes, I have lost more hair and shaved my head, I have had a picc line inserted surgically and have endured its discomfort for two months, and most recently, I’ve started losing my eyebrow and eyelash hair, and in two more days, I will have a fourth chemo infusion.

I have fought hard to win this battle.  After Wednesday’s chemo, my fight will continue on for another FIVE years.  During those five years, I will take an estrogen blocker that will create menopausal symptoms a full five or six years before I should have to worry about them.  I will also have mammograms, blood work and follow-ups. 

I have a great prognosis.  I had a pretty good prognosis if I had only done surgery and nothing else.  I hope and pray this is the last gamble I have to take for a long, long time. 

Cancer is a bitch.  Why is it with a completely curable illness like strep throat, a doctor gives you an antibiotic and says take one every four hours for the next ten days?  If you stop taking it too soon, it may recur.  If you take the whole course, you’ll be fine.  With cancer, there is no cut and dry set of directions.  I have to make my decision, stick with it, and most of all believe in it. 

And I do.  Believe, that is. 

Here comes Rosh Hashanah!!!

Tomorrow is the start of a new year!  I’m not taking about the turning of a date.  I’m talking about renewal of body, mind, and spirit.  I’m talking about cleaning my slate with my G-d and healing relationships with the people I love most.

And, of course, I’m talking about closing the book on this past year that held both the most exquisite joy and excruciating pain.  I look back on this year and am absolutely amazed. 

Trent and I have travelled far and wide this year and hardly left Lilburn.  We got engaged.  We held onto each other for dear life and we fell madly in love over and over and over.  We have faced medical disasters and surgery and chemo.  We have proven without a shadow of a doubt that we are an unshakable, unbreakable couple.  We have also proven that together and separately both of us are committed to living sober no matter what.

Tonight I celebrated.  I bought myself a huge present that is shiny and new and will last a lifetime.  It is a reward for quitting smoking under the most grueling of circumstances   It is a commemoration of  my last chemo which is a week away.  It is an early 45th birthday present to myself.  It is an early celebration of being clean and sober for five years.

Whether you are Jewish or not, I wish you all a happy, healthy new year.  No matter what you believe, every day is the start of something new.  Enjoy it.  Celebrate Life!

the breaking point.

i have reached it.  the breaking point.

i have gone back to work and while that has helped restore some normalcy to my life, it has opened a new can of worms.  people simply do not think before they speak. 

this week i have been quizzed ad infinitum about my wedding.  really, people?  i am bald.  i have gained twenty pounds.  i have a two foot tube that runs the length of my arm and around to my chest.  please, if you are reading this, do NOT ask me about my wedding.  don’t misunderstand me.  trent and i WILL get married.  i’m just a little busy right now trying to save my fucking life.

another co-worker asked me if i had plans to get pregnant any time soon.  again, i ask, really?!?  next time please run me over with your minivan because i think that might feel better than my having to answer THAT question.  for the record, chemo can put me into an early menopause.  for the record, i won’t know if that has happened until, well,  i’ll just know.  for the record, i have to take an estrogen blocker for five years.  i’ll be fifty by then.  for the record, pregnant fifty year olds don’t as a rule have healthy babies.  after explaining this, i was asked if we had considered adoption.  are you kidding me?  for the sake of not being redundant, please review section above where i discuss being bald, fat, and picc lined.  i don’t have time to ADOPT a child right now.  i’m too busy saving my fucking life.

also, i have always, always, always wanted a child.  i would cut off my right breast with a dull knife myself right now if it would mean i could bring a little trent into this world.  i don’t want to adopt someone else’s infant.  if it doesn’t have trent’s genetics, well, whatever.

yesterday someone stopped me in the breakroom.  they asked me about being bald and i said sometimes people stare.  here is the statement this person made to me, “well, you are the embodiment of everybody’s worst fear”.  there is no retort to that.  it is the truth and as is so often the case, the truth hurts. 

i am tired of cancer and all its social improprieties. 

I hate being bald.  The reasons why I hate being bald are so varied and the list is lengthy.  I imagine the world at large sees a cancer patient as hating being bald as a soley vanity-related issue.  By and large, they would be correct.

First of all, having to constantly wear something over the head while in public is annoying.  I hate hats to begin with but add that hatred to the pounding headaches that I get for two weeks after chemo, and you have a recipe for a mental breakdown or two.  Hats actually hurt. 

Second of all, I am of the unfortunate school of thought that hats are not meant to be worn indoors.  To me when a woman wears a hat indoors, it is an immediate fashion disaster.  Or Easter, I guess.

Finally, I have no idea how to shop for clothing anymore.  I find something I think makes a fairly adequate outfit only to realize it looks ridiculous once the coup de gras (hat) is added.

When I was growing up, kids had these crazy all night wire retainers.  I was thankfully not required to wear one of the contraptions but I remember calling them “headgear”.  In the final analysis, the most incredible Chanel suit would look like shit if it was accessorized with “headgear”.   I freely apply this principal to my current hat situation.

With all this kvetching (complaining in yiddish), I’m sure people wonder why I don’t just buy a wig and shut up already.  I wonder that myself, really.  I have considered buying a wig.  I know I’d like the feel of hair on my head but I have this overwhelming feeling that I’ll be walking around pretending to be what I’m not.  If ever there was a time to claim my identity, it is NOW. 

I’m fighting cancer and I’m bald.  I hate it.  But it is true and real.  A wig feels like a prop in a play to me.  And as much as I wish this were a play, it’s not.  It’s real life.

Please enjoy the below photo of dental headgear.  I am pleased the girl in the picture is bald!