Today is June 1st, 8 months since my breast cancer diagnosis. Sometimes it seems a lifetime ago and sometimes it seems like just yesterday. Some days I feel I have survived the worst of it and then some days I feel like I am still fighting. I have met many breast cancer patients and have found that some call themselves ‘survivors’ from their date of diagnosis and some from the date of their surgery. I don’t know when I will call myself a true survivor. All I know is that I don’t feel like one just yet.
Maybe that’s because I am still going through IV infusion treatment, spending the day in the chemo ward every 3 weeks, and maybe that’s because I still have very little hair at all, and my fingernails and toenails are rotting, bleeding, and falling off. ( Gross, I know, but that’s the raw truth.) I escaped to a movie theater a few days ago and got engrossed in the show, forgetting for three hours that I had breast cancer, only to go to the restroom after wards and find blood on my shirt from my bleeding fingernail. I wrap band aids around them and try to keep them on. “This part is taking too long”, I think to myself, this part of regaining my body after chemo therapy. And even the therapy I am getting now, though not as toxic as the last four and a half months, still causes me headaches and fatigue and I am scheduled for nuclear heart scans every 120 days to check for cardiomyopathy, a side effect to the drug Herceptin, which I get every 21 days.
(Tim and me, out to dinner last weekend, with his parents who came to visit from St.Louis)
On a lighter note, though, I was traveling back from California a couple of weeks ago and in the airport magazine/book store the clerk said to me, “I love your hair color! It is really nice with your brown eyes.” I smiled and then leaned over to her and said, “I have a dirty little secret to tell you”…and then I told her about my wig and breast cancer.
I thought to myself, I could say “thank you” and go about my business, or I could put a face to breast cancer and let people know that it is not your great aunt’s disease anymore. It is affecting more women than ever before, in staggering numbers and to people whom you never would have suspected. Many celebrities have hidden it from the public until now. The risk factors are becoming more widely advertised and discovered by scientists.
I don’t know what my life after breast cancer treatment will look like, but right now it includes a desire to let people know that finding a cure, though a great hope for us all, is only one piece in a very larger puzzle of finding the cause. The more I read, the more I see how our society and foods, and lifestyles play a big role. Now if I could only get myself to make some of the changes that will reduce my risk of recurrence such as daily exercise and eating a large diet of fresh fruits and vegetables! I’d better get off this computer now, and put on my walkin’ shoes!!
It’s been more than a week since I last posted. I’ve been getting ready for my trip out to visit my family in California, and the day has arrived! I will be gone today through the 20th of May.
For over a week now I have resumed most of my daily activities of running a house to include the grocery shopping, cooking, laundry and upkeep, even though I am still anemic. They checked my blood levels last week and my white cell counts are normal, so not as susceptible to infection, but the red cell count is still low, causing anemia. I was also catching up on all the back-ordered jewelry orders that had stacked up and then I put my shop on vacation mode – I plan to resume after June 1st. That has taken a lot of pressure off of me and freed up some time.
I began my “maintenence” Herceptin dose infusions last week, three times the levels I had been receiving, since they are every 3 weeks now instead of every week. Tomorrow is the first Wednesday since New Years that I have not had to be at the hospital! That, in itself, feels amazing! The only side effect I have noticed is one my doctor warned me of, and that is a constant drippy nose accompanied by scabs lining the nostrils. Hopefully those will subside with time as my body adjusts and I get back some nose hairs. I don’t go anywhere without my Kleenex!
My oncologist denied my request for a manicure, since one of the nails started lifting from the finger and was oozing. The bleeding under the nails has continued, but I went ahead and painted over them for my trip since they look pretty ugly. I just can’t have the soaking and cuticle treatment that a typical manicure includes. I am keeping them short so they don’t get caught and then pull right off – they are tender and still a little numb.
I shaved my legs for the first time in 6 months too! California is HOT already and shorts and skirts mean no covering up the stubble that is beginning to return. 🙂 Hair is starting to fill in the bald spots on my head, though just grayish colored (ugh) chickadee “fuzz” right now. I am still sporting a wig when I leave the house, and a scarf or bandanna while staying at home. I don’t think there will be much swimming pool or beach activity for me this summer!
I signed on to be a “chemo-angel” to a cancer patient just beginning her chemo treatments….a source of encouragement to someone else and a real place to help me begin recovery as I reach out to another woman affected by breast cancer. Channeling my time and energies into helping others will help me from holding my own pity party now that I am going through the post chemo “fall out”. Nobody warned me of the feelings I would have as I begin to process the emotional after effects of treatment. And in some respects I feel like I am still IN treatment until the new year, as I go once or twice a month to the chemo room for infusions. A ‘new normal’, they call it. All I can say is I just want my ‘old’ normal back, and that is a loss I must grieve over time. I appreciate your prayers to that end.
‘Til next week!
8 days and counting down to my LAST chemo treatment! You’d think I would be jumping for joy, but instead I am crying at the drop of a hat. Emotion is at the edge of my eyes and tears flow like April showers. Sometimes at a simple thought, sometimes for no reason at all. Sometimes I ask myself if I will really ever feel like cancer is “over”. Looming worry is always tip-toeing in my shadow. 8 more months of infusion treatments over the course of the next year, scans scheduled and follow ups…when can I call myself a survivor? Some say I should claim it NOW, but I still fee like I am in the fight.
Physically, fatigue drags me through my day. I sleep a lot, both at night and with several naps during the day. Simple tasks, such as walking to get the mail just a few hundred feet down the driveway, takes effort. My fingernails now all feel like they have been hit with a hammer at the tips and are tender to the touch. Still, I don’t have any nausea and am cooking dinners again, which I enjoy. All those days of laying on the couch and watching Food Network after chemo have inspired me! 🙂 Still, I wake up every day with no hair and that image alone brings me to tears.
Curtis was home from college this past weekend ,and as he packed up his things to travel back, he asked me to sew a hole in his pants. I quickly did so and he packed them tightly into his duffle bag with a “thanks mom”. There I was, crying like a baby and remembering the years and years of darning their socks or fixing a torn sleeve when they were little….thinking now of how grown up he is and that he is leaving home again.
They tell me that chemo will induce an early menopause, and many of my chemo friends are cursing the hot flashes and night sweats in their 30’s and 40’s, which I have not experienced yet. The emotional ride is what I seem to be having right now. Mascara running off of my three remaining eyelashes every day…I guess if I never have the ‘other’ I will be elated!! I am w-a-y too young for that!
Spring is here and Easter is next Sunday. Birds are chirping and flowers blooming. Signs of new life and fresh beginnings remind me that change is coming. Sometimes these are just happy tears that God knows my inner thoughts and desire for a brighter day. I must believe that it is coming.