Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The CAN in Cancer

It has been almost 2 weeks since my first chemotherapy treatment and I'm finally getting the energy to update. I can't update this blog very well on my iPhone or iPad so writing an entry involves going up to the office and sitting in my uncomfortable desk chair at the desktop, and that just makes the whole thing feel too much like work.

I was extremely nervous for my first infusion but found it to be much easier, much less dramatic, and more routine feeling than I could have ever imagined. It helped that I had a fun nurse who was my age and made the whole experience very laid back. Since it was my first time, they were obviously out to impress me and gave me "infusion bed 23" which had a lovely view of the gardens. Accessing my port for the first time was a concern because it was still so tender from surgery the week before. Thankfully, I barely felt but a pin prick and they were able to quickly retrieve my blood samples that they needed for my participation in the clinical study that I'm doing. Then they hooked me up to some bags of goodies-saline and a bunch of IV anti-nausea medications. I was given 5 steroid pills to take to reduce any allergic reaction that I may have to the chemo meds and then my oncologist came to visit and ordered a 1mg Ativan which was also to help cut the nausea. Then my nurse covered herself in a whole bunch of protective coverings and sat next to me with a couple of syringes filled with kool aid colored fluid- Adriamycin, "the red devil". This chemotherapy is so toxic that it can burn through your skin and must be administered directly into a vein, hence all the protective gear she wore. It seems so wrong that someone is protecting themselves so much from something that is going directly into a port right next to my heart. She pushed the fluid slowly into my port over the course of 10 to 15 minutes. After that, they did an IV infusion of Cytoxan which took about 30 minutes and gives you the feeling of sinus pressure when you are being infused. I had read that you can sometimes taste strange things in your mouth during infusion so I sucked on hard candy and drank ice water, which is supposed to help reduce the risk of getting mouth sores. After that, they let me go. A rather boring report, but I'd rather this than any dramatics.

Eric and I went to lunch, I was like a drunk person thanks to the Ativan, and then I went home to sleep. The next couple of days weren't bad. I slept like a rock every night and needed naps every day due to the extreme exhaustion. I felt no nausea whatsoever. I did alternate Zofran and Compazine for the first few days because I didn't want to take any chances.

By last Thursday, when I went to get my wigs and attend Look Good Feel Better at the breast center, I was feeling pretty much back to my normal energy level. I really hope that round two brings no surprises and I can expect more of the same.

My clinical trial nurse called me yesterday to follow up on how I was doing. I told her that I only had vanity issues with treatment so far. The steroids they make you take for the day of infusion and the 3 days after make you insatiably hungry. My stomach growled all day. First thing in the morning, all through the day, while I was stuffing my face, when I went to bed and every time I woke up in the middle of the night. And since I was not having an nausea, eating was no problem. And I was one of those people who was blessed to not have any alteration of my taste buds and everything tasted freaking fabulous. Now I understand why people gain 25 pounds while undergoing breast cancer chemotherapy. Another problem with the steroids is that they can cause acne. I developed painful cystic acne on my chin, unlike anything I've ever had, even as a teenager. My face hurt to smile, even talk sometimes. I'd gladly take some nausea not to have to deal with this shit. So I'm going to talk to my oncologist about trying to reduce the amount of steroids this round to see if that helps. My face is finally starting to clear up in time to begin it all again on Friday. My hair is also starting to fall out, just a few strands here and there. Nothing at all like the amount of hair I lost on a daily basis when it was long and blonde, so I'm not in any danger of having any bald spots soon. But I'll probably get annoyed with finding hairs everywhere and shave it by the end of the weekend. I thought it was ready to do it, I really did. But as the time approaches, I keep hoping for one more day that it hangs on.

So that is my personal experience with chemotherapy round #1. Do-able, just like they said. If I can help anyone at all through this, I want women to know that if you ever are 1 in 8, you CAN do breast cancer. You CAN do a drastic body altering surgery. You CAN do chemo. Cancer was always my biggest fear, and chemo a terror. Now I have to face it and like all trials, God only gives you what you can handle. And I know that I can certainly handle cancer.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Angels You Know

The one thing I've noticed so far from this cancer "situation" is how many angels there are among us and how people are put into your life's path for very specific reasons. I am so very thankful for all of my angels.

I have to first mention my guardian angel, my Dad. This is something I have only shared with a few people, until now. The day after my dad passed away I was riding in my husband's car on the way to my parents house. I heard my father's voice, very clearly in my head. He said "I love you, Jenna. Get yourself checked." My heart started to pound. What did he mean? Get what checked? What is wrong with me? It stuck in my head throughout the fall months. A friend mentioned at a holiday party that she had a dream I was pregnant. She said "well you were sick, so I assumed it was because you were pregnant." The heart starts to pound again, I know that I am sick, and not pregnant. But what is it? My immune system was changing, I was getting every cold that Harper got. They were turning into sinus infections, which I had never had before. Could this just be because I'm emotionally worn down from mourning my dad? I prayed one specific prayer to God throughout the months after my father's death, "Please Lord, help me understand why this had to happen." I truly believe my Dad had to leave here to alert me to the fact that something was wrong with me that needed to be treated. A friend, another one of my angels, said to me at his visitation service "Your dad can do more for you now than he ever could on Earth." I cling to this through this battle and know that he is always going to be my protector, even though he is gone.

My first thought when I was diagnosed was my mom. Why did she have to lose her husband of 40 years and now her only child has cancer? Please spare her this pain. She and Harper remain my biggest concern and motivation through this battle. I have to be here to take care of my mom as she gets older, and I have to be here because Harper needs her mom. I HAVE TO. There is no question, these people need me and they are the reason I fight. Harper has been my every reason for breathing since before she even existed and I have promised myself that I will be here for her until she is a grown woman. Thank you God for both of them. My mom has been a huge help with Harper, and Harper a huge help to my mom. And thanks be to God that Harper is too young to remember this. I look forward to the day that she and I are much older and I can tell her my story and make sure that she is diligent about breast cancer screening. I look forward to the day that we both do not have to worry, because there is a cure or a vaccine.

My husband is a true angel, my protector, and my rock. In our marriage we vowed in sickness and in health, without batting an eye at what that really means. I break down and cry to him that I'm so sorry that he has to go through this, if only he could have married a girl who was healthy, a girl without a mangled body, a soon to be bald head, a girl who will not resemble an 80 year old woman for half of the upcoming year. He tells me every single day how beautiful I am, mangled body and all. And the thing is, he really means it.  I think he's nuts, but I also think he is exactly the person I was meant to spend my life with.

My angel Mary, who always called me her angel. Five years ago Mary, my coworker, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through an successful surgery and had to do chemotherapy to insure that the cancer didn't return. A single mother, Mary worked as a pharmaceutical rep throughout her treatment. She is such a strong and inspirational woman.   In October of 2008 Mary and I went to a training class together. Mary was tired and out of breath and thought it must be the chemo and her asthma taking it's toll on her. I carried her bags for her and we had dinner together every night. No big deal, but it meant a lot to Mary, especially after she returned home to find out she was in heart failure from one of the cancer drugs. Praise be to God, that Mary's heart failure reversed itself once she stopped the medication. Almost five years to the day later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, same kind and stage as Mary. Almost five years to the day later, I had a bilateral mastectomy, like Mary. And almost five years to the day later, I will start the same chemotherapy treatment that Mary did. She has been such a resource and comfort during this time that now she is my angel.

I would not have half of the strength I have without a group of breast cancer survivors to turn to for advice. Renee, Amanda, Nichole, Kristen, Rachel, Becky, Linda, Abby, the women in my survivor group, and the ladies on the Young Survival Coalition message boards, they have all helped me so much to not feel so alone in this. I am so sorry that all of these women have had to endure the caner battle but they are all such good examples of strength and survival to me.

An angel was even put in my path at the dentist office, my least favorite place on Earth. I will seriously be surprised if the chemotherapy infusion room at the hospital trumps the dentist office as my least favorite place once this is all said and done. I hadn't gone to the dentist in a few years, shameful I know, but I knew I needed to get a good cleaning prior to starting my treatment. I filled out the medical form and waited with dread for a young dental hygienist to scold me for not keeping up to date with my cleanings and to marvel at how young I was to have breast cancer, to feel sorry for me. My hygienist was an angel. Her mother was a stage 3 breast cancer survivor and she had obviously done her research and knew a lot about the disease. We had a very good conversation about cancer, treatment, and coming out on the other side. Never once did she act shocked at how young I was. It was such a good experience and I didn't have any cavities to boot.

Tomorrow I start my chemotherapy treatment. This is far more frightening than my surgery to me. It lasts a lot longer and has side effects that can last for the rest of your life. I'm asking for prayers that my body and heart endure this toxic poison, but that any remaining cancer does not. These next few months will not be easy, but I know they will be worth it. My biggest fear is that I'm going to look like a cancer patient, that people will look at me and feel sorry for me. I'm afraid that people will assume I'm dying of cancer, rather than living and preventing my cancer from returning. So please, please, don't pity me. I can do this, and I will do this, and all I need is encouragement and strength to get through it.

I am overwhelmed and alarmed at how many young women I have been put in touch with that have been diagnosed with cancer recently. A friend of mine knows 4 women, 35 and under, who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the last few months. She went to her doctor to demand a mammogram and the young female doctor raised her hand and said that she too, was a breast cancer survivor. She said "the reason you know so many young women just diagnosed with breast cancer is not a coincidence, it is something that is very much happening." Please ladies, be sure to check yourself, thoroughly, on a monthly basis. I wish that I had.

My angel: