Peaks and Valleys . . .
I had started my next round of the new chemo on September 6th – just two weeks after the last round of A/C. No rest for the weary. I was still nauseous and even took an anti-nausea med that day because I was still feeling queasy. Thinking to myself - will it ever end??? I’d been told the taxol will not take as long to administer and the side effects will not be as drastic. I do have to stay longer the first time to make sure I have no adverse side effects. I will say inserting the needle into my port hurt this time and hurt for a while afterwards, making me a little apprehensive for the next time. Otherwise, I handled it like pro. No side effects. I’ll have my third of the 12 rounds tomorrow. If all goes well, I will be done on November 22nd.
I’ve completed the grueling 4 rounds of A/C and survived! It was trying but doable. I expected it to be much worse than it actually was. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a cake walk but I wasn’t as ill as I thought I would be. I’ve completed it. I’ve gotten through the roughest part of the chemo and I’ve started the next round. So what’s the problem?
I have to admit - I’m at a loss right now. I’m trying to get motivated for this next round and I find I’m slumping. This past summer has been a whirlwind. I had my mastectomy. I received a port, started chemo. My daughter went to Barcelona for 6 weeks, my son got married all while dealing with the side effects of the A/C. I had my chemo treatment coincide with the wedding, making sure I had a treatment 10 days before the wedding so I would have the most energy. I had energy but no taste buds. Between the two, I’ll take the energy. The wedding was everything I’d hoped it would be for Nick and Molly. The weather was perfect, the Woodward cruise didn’t make its presence interfere with the celebration, the band was great and everyone danced, the atmosphere was loving and celebratory. It was a true celebration of love.
We had the rehearsal dinner on Friday, wedding on Saturday, a brunch at the house on Sunday, moved Riley back to college on Monday, moved Bob’s mother out of her condo on Tuesday and then my last A/C chemo on Wednesday. My Aunt died and I had a family funeral that following weekend. Can you say whirlwind?
I find myself challenged physically this time around. I’ve been told by my doctors that I should be a poster child for how to handle the chemo A/C; that I handled it extremely well. I continued to exercise, I took my vitamins, I ate well (when I had an appetite), I worked at keeping a positive attitude. But it was still challenging. My first two treatments of A/C were easy in the grand scheme of things. The third treatment took away my taste buds with the same side effects. I expected the same side effects with the last A/C that I had experienced with the first three. Unfortunately, the last treatment of A/C really knocked me for a loop. I was fatigued and extremely nauseous. So nauseous that I laid in bed almost the entire day the following Tuesday hoping to sleep the day away to stave off the nausea. I had no taste buds, everything tasted like metal. Eating was difficult. I’m supposed to drink 2 liters of liquid a day. I could barely drink between the chemical taste and the nausea. I started experiencing leg cramps from being so dehydrated. I felt like I was failing. I was so disappointed in myself. The way I felt physically was affecting me mentally. I found myself focusing on the rest of the journey.
I will admit this second journey with the Big “C” is not only more difficult physically but mentally as well. I’ve gotten overwhelmed thinking about the length of the journey but I also have daily reminders that I have cancer. The last time I had the Big “C”, I had two lumpectomies. I was left with 3 small scars on my breast. I had radiation over two days and no chemotherapy. This time I will have had a mastectomy along with both chemotherapy and radiation. The Big “C” likes to remind me of this daily.
I look in the mirror and I see a scarred chest, no breast on one side. I see my bald head. My eyelashes are thinning, as are my eyebrows. For the first time in my life I’m using an eyebrow pencil (Okay I admit I’ve never been a makeup person). I threw out all my bras the other day. I will not be able to wear a regular bra for at least a year. I had to purchase a mastectomy bathing suit and bras. Whenever I wear either I have to insert a prosthesis. Then I’m constantly making sure my breasts look even. When I finish with my makeup, I put on a wig before I leave the house. Daily reminders.
I will admit the past few weeks have been one of the lowest points of my journey thus far. I was tired physically and mentally. I was tired of doing this! Tired of putting on a brave face and handling it. Tired of having no taste buds and tasting chemical all the time. Tired of always feeling so punky. The nausea was almost crippling. I began thinking about how far I had to go on this journey. I was so focused on the first four difficult treatments I would have during the wedding, I hadn’t thought about what followed. I had prepared myself for the sprint, I hadn’t prepared myself for the marathon. I began to feel overwhelmed. I was having a really hard time staying positive. I let myself cry and had a pity party for myself. I didn’t like the space I was in but I couldn’t pull myself out.
I was forgetting to stay in the present moment, partly because in the present moment I didn’t feel well. I was thinking about the long journey to come. 12 more chemo treatments taking me into the end of November. Every week for the next 12 weeks followed by radiation. The different side effects I will experience with this new type of chemo – neuropathy in my hands and feet the most prominent. I’ll have to wait six months after radiation to let my body heal before I can have my other breast removed and reconstruction done. Another major surgery and recovery. A year of having one breast. My hair won’t start growing back until December. I wonder how long it will take to grow. How much longer will I have to wear a wig? How will my body handle the radiation? I was focusing on the negative and letting myself get overwhelmed. This journey takes me on many peaks and valleys. I was in a valley and needed to pull myself out.
I have to fight to stay present and not think of the long term. I also need to remember that it’s about embracing all aspects of this journey. I shouldn’t wish this time away. I am living my life while I’m treating the cancer.
I needed to realize how far I have come since I received my diagnosis in April. I needed to focus on the positives. I had just completed the worst of the chemo and all during my son’s wedding festivities and I was able to enjoy every minute of it. But most of all I needed to focus on my gratitude. Yes, this is one of the most difficult things I’ve been through but I get to live a long life because of it. I am growing from this. I am learning from this. I am healing from this. I will be here to experience my children’s life accomplishments. I will get to enjoy many years with my husband. I get to live. Let me say that again, I get to live! So even though, it’s been rough, I am grateful for it.
I turned a page last week. I’m not sure what it was. I had my second treatment of taxol and did fine (though getting the needle into my port was traumatic – lol!). That night, we celebrated my husband’s 60th birthday with a pub crawl in the city of Detroit and had a great time. I experienced joy that night. Joy being with my family celebrating wonderful Bob. Yes, I had chemo, but it didn’t stop me from joy. And that’s what turned it for me. I realized I was letting chemo take over my life. It’s just a part of my life. Yes, I will have my weekly chemo but it’s only one afternoon a week. The rest of the week is for me to experience life in gratitude, humor and joy.
I’m healing, that’s all. I will have my daily reminders. I will continue to have chemo treatments and the side effects that go with them. I will eventually have radiation and reconstruction. And all while I’m going through it I’ll stay present and in gratitude. I will remember its all temporary. It’s all the process of healing and I choose to heal. I put on a little Earth Wind and Fire today and danced because I’ve decided to come out of the dark and live in joy. I’m blessed, I’m lucky and I’m grateful. Life is great isn’t it?