Monday, April 30, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Throughout my journey with breast cancer I have encountered several surprises. I often feel like I am one of those old cartoon characters. You know the ones, those poor souls who are just walking along and then suddenly fall flat on their backs after having stepped on a banana peel. Well, this week has not been any different. The past couple of weeks have been kind of strange for me. I have been a bit stressed because even though the Taxol has fewer side effects than my previous chemotherapy drug, Sven wasn’t shrinking. About two weeks ago Sven start to throb and I could swear that he was growing. I talked to my doctors and they checked him out last week and found that he may have grown only a tiny bit, but that they could not be sure if Sven had actually grown or not until this week. It turns out that Sven has started to grow again and I am not responding to this treatment. Woops, another banana! Everything is okay though because we know for a fact that I respond to one form of treatment. Although I wanted to avoid meeting with the devil again, I may have to. Who knows, there are several different types of chemotherapy drugs for me to try. Aside from this reassuring knowledge, I will also be having surgery in the next week or so. I have an appointment with the surgeon on Monday and I will go from there. I certainly was not expecting this anytime soon, but it is a relief to know that Sven is getting kicked out. Although I like to share, Sven and I seem to have very diverse interests.
Due to the fact that I am not responding to my most recent chemotherapy drug, I may not be able to have immediate reconstruction. I was going to have to wait a year for reconstruction to be complete in the first place, but now I will have to wait even longer. This means that I have to deal with that whole patience thing again. This is certainly one side effect nobody warned me about. It would have been nice to at least get a pre-recorded message, “During your cancer journey you will experience tests of patience, please be patient with us while we continue to stab you with needles and information. Thank you for holding your life. We appreciate your patience while you wait.” This also means that, because I am going to China in August, I will probably be completely without any kind of breast until next summer. That is okay because there are all sorts of different types of prosthesis out there for women who have had mastectomies. I am certain I will find one that suits me just fine (breast shopping anyone?). Also, I will most likely have to have multiple surgeries instead of just two. No one ever said that this was easy, but I have to say that I am pretty damn sick of procedures. I guess my patience is running out. Am I allowed to ask for a refill? All jokes aside, saying goodbye to Sven right now also means saying goodbye to my breast a lot sooner than I had expected. Yes, I knew this was coming, but I also thought I had a bit more time to get used to the idea. Perhaps it is better this way? Maybe it is better in the same way that ripping a band aid off quickly is better than peeling it away slowly. Either way it’s a shocker and I have to admit that I am a little bit scared.
Though I may be scared, I am still an optimist (Yes, you can still be an optimist and not have patience.). Not responding to treatment has been one of my biggest fears and now that it has happened I find that I am less upset about than I thought I would be (albeit clearly a little bit on the bitter side…). Having the surgery means Sven is moving out! It also means that my treatment will be more specialized as the doctors will be able to analyze Sven and know more about him and what treatment to continue with. Yay for informed chemotherapy! I have to wonder what “informed chemotherapy” looks like. I like to imagine a handsome man with dark hair and glasses who knows a lot about what is going on in the great, wide world of cancer. Aside from good looking chemotherapy, the prospects for my future look good and I will still be done with my treatment in time to leave for China. All in all it is not so bad. I cannot wait to be done with this and start to move forward again. I hope that everything goes well in the next few months and that I do not have to deal with cancer again in this lifetime. However, if I do then I will just keep jogging along and hope that I don’t step on any more bananas.
Monday, April 2, 2012
Before I started chemotherapy I had a lot of misconceptions about what it would be like to sit and be pumped full of poison. I pictured a gently lit room with pastel walls, a droning television, and zonked out individuals hooked up to bags. Perhaps with a few overworked nurses wandering around and some people hanging out and crying. Fortunately, chemotherapy is nothing like this at all. Hanging out in the Chemo Lounge (as I like to call it) is much easier than you would think. Yes, the walls and chairs are pastel and some of the chemo patients zonk out, but overall chemotherapy is actually quite fun. The television is on, but is not loud and is often not watched. When it is being watched, the program is a source of conversation rather than a means of cutting yourself off from the rest of the room. The nurses are great. They laugh, smile, tease and tell ornery jokes some of which are completely inappropriate in an absolutely wonderful way. Speaking of ornery, the patients are quite mischievous themselves. If anyone outside of the Chemo Lounge heard some of the jokes we make about ourselves or cancer they would probably think that we were all cracked. However, it’s such a relief to laugh! We laugh so much that you would never think that we all suffered from a terrible illness. There is only one other option to laughter and that is to be a grumpy fuss budget and there is no way I am going to spend my valuable time being grumpy and depressed. I have made some amazing friends and met some wonderful people just by sitting in a chair and being poisoned.
Among the Chemo Kids I am, by far, the youngest. Everyone else is at least 15-20 years older than me. I am lucky because everyone else seems to feel the need to take care of me. I don’t mind being the “Chemo Baby” at all. It’s nice to be the spoiled brat for once in my life; although, I try not to be too bratty. It is also nice to feel so cared for. The other chemotherapy patients and the nurses try hard to make this experience as un-scary as possible for me. All of their efforts have certainly paid off because I feel incredibly safe in the Chemo Lounge. Well, except for when I fall asleep as there is a running rumor that your head will get drawn on in you fall asleep… Aside from that, I feel pretty safe. At the same time I feel a deep sense of protectiveness for the other chemotherapy patients. I frequently catch myself watching everyone else to see how they are doing each week. Some weeks, you can tell that energy levels are down or that a person simply isn’t feeling as well as they usually do. Everyone tries their best to let others rest when they need it and we try even harder to cheer up those who are obviously having a hard week. I find that the chocolate in the candy basket is an especially helpful tool when cheering others up. The overwhelming sense of care you get from every single person in the Chemo Lounge is amazing. I never expected this and I am so glad that I found such a wonderful place to get my chemotherapy.
This environment has been especially helpful for any questions or concerns I have had about my chemotherapy medications. My peace of mind is aided by the fact that I am perfectly free to ask the other Chemo Kids questions about their treatments and responses to them. There are times when I think I must be crazy and that there is no way my symptoms make any sense. It doesn’t help that the doctors do not always have an answer as to why my symptoms happen in the first place. However, finding out that the other patients have had similar responses helps me realize that, although I may be crazy, I am certainly not wrong about what I am experiencing. The nurses also consistently participate in our conversations and are a wealth of knowledge. They work very hard to smile and bring laughter into the Chemo Lounge, which makes them easy to approach. The information provided while I am hanging out in the Chemo Lounge was particularly helpful when I started my new chemo drug, Taxol. Many of the patients have been around others on the same drug or have personal experience on the matter. The majority of the patients were more than happy to let me know that Taxol was easier than my previous drug and that most recipients experienced little to no trouble. So far their predictions have been true. I love Taxol. Okay, maybe love is a strong term, but I am very happy with Taxol. I have absolutely no nausea (Thank Goodness!). This alone is enough to make me dance. I still feel very tired and worn out, but that’s not so bad. Seriously, pushing myself to go on a walk or complete an activity helps to make this feeling more manageable. My nails feel weird and are likely to fall off, my eyes feel gritty, I get headaches, hot flashes and my muscles and joints are sore, but at least I can do more than I could before. My only hope is that this trend continues for the next eight weeks and that I don’t get knocked on my ass again! So the actual chemo part of chemotherapy is not so bad. I could even use the word, “fun” as a descriptor. It’s the days following chemotherapy that you have to worry about and even those can be muddled through if you try hard enough.