Friday, August 30, 2013

Cry Baby

I've cried four times today so far. I don't know what is wrong with me, besides the obvious. The first time was because I was thinking about Amanda and her wonderful family that came with her to her oncology appointment today and to see her ring the bell because she is no longer doing chemotherapy. She had to end a little prematurely but she is DONE and on to radiation. Anyway, her little girl is so sweet and her parents are really great. It made me think of my Dad. I have had my mom come with me to chemo sessions and she's a great comfort but I found myself imagining how it would be if both of my parents were able to sit here with me. No doubt my dad would bring the comic relief and I miss his presence terribly.

Then I go into my appointment with my oncologist and she does a thorough exam. At the end I show her a soft squishy lump on my left ankle. I've been obsessing over it for the last week. If I turn my leg a certain way and flex it, it really sticks out. But it's soft and I can push it in so it can't be cancer right? I was afraid to ask her. Breast cancer doesn't metastasize to the ankle in many cases, if any, but I was convinced that I was one of the small percentage of people who got a brand NEW cancer while on chemo. This is how my screwed up mind thinks. She said it was right on a blood vessel and she thinks it's a varicose vein. My husband said "so it isn't cancer?" which he already knew and she laughed and said no. Then she sits down and got really serious and said "I am really sorry to say this but..." HOLD UP! WHAT THE F$&@! My heart stops and she continues with "you've really been gaining weight and you're not even on Tamoxifen yet so could you try to scale it back?" This made me go off, not because I was mad at her, she's only stating the obvious and giving me the advice that she should as my doctor. But seriously. I eat whole grain cereal with almond milk for breakfast, a big bowl of kale with nuts and berries for lunch, organic chicken and veggies for dinner. As my mom said "People don't gain weight on what you're eating." We'll except me. My study nurse chimed in that I seem to be very sensitive to steroids and hopefully this will come off after treatment. I committed to a strict diet to lose what I've gained over the course of the next few months before I start Tamoxifen which will apparently make me a huge fatty all over again. This was all very annoying but it didn't make me cry.

While meeting with the oncologist I missed Amanda's end of chemo bell ringing. Amanda has been with me since, literally, the beginning. She was diagnosed days after me and we have done it all together. She had some very serious complications during chemo and her chemo was ended 6 weeks early, a decision that is truly in her best interest. Through it all, she has been the strongest baddest chick ever and I really wanted to be there to celebrate her end of this part of our nightmare journey. But I wasn't and it sucked so again, tears.

Then I had to shed a few tears over the relief that the doc doesn't think my leg lump is cancer. But then I realize, this is how it will always be. Every strange lump, bump, red mark, or ache will be cancer to me. This fear, this feeling that cancer is lurking, ready to chase me down again will always be there. My doctor assures me that this is normal and that as more time passes, I will feel stronger and more confident in my body.

Now it's infusion time and I'm feeling super feisty and Eric and I have a few laughs. I do a little pole dance with my IV pole but he doesn't give me any money. I head to the bathroom for one of my many pee breaks thanks to a big bag of saline. As I sit on the throne, I look up and read the bag that's dripping into my veins. In big words "chemo therapy". I look at myself in the mirror. I have aged but I am still young. Chemo. Therapy. How is this my life? How did this happen? I dissolve into tears as I sit back down in my chair.

Not a minute of this has been easy, even though I've escaped many hard side effects. The emotional toll has been worse than I've ever imagined. And soon I will enter what is the hardest part for many patients, acclimating back to "normal" life. I find that if I make plans, like following a strict diet and starting a running program with the goal to run a 5k, 10k, half marathon and eventually, a marathon, I feel in control, like I'm still fighting the cancer. I know it won't be easy, but easy is so 2011.  I'm  looking forward to my new life, my renewed life, and I hope I adjust to leaving Jenna With Cancer behind and just becoming me again.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Watching Me Like a Hawk

Yesterday morning I got out of bed at 6:30 am in order to attend the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer kick-off breakfast at the Holiday Inn. As I dropped the dogs off at the Canine Clubhouse at 7:30 am, I marveled that there were people out and about this early. Apparently I've completely forgotten what its like to be in the working world during my hiatus, thanks to my wonderful daughter who lets me sleep in until 8.

I got to the hotel, registered, and got in line for food. Then I made my way to the front if the ballroom like I always do since my eyes are pretty bad. I picked a table with an empty seat and friendly faces and it changed the course of my day in that moment. A woman at my table was wearing a pacesetters badge, which is a title I desire for myself. In order to become one, you must raise at least $2,500 through your fundraising. During the kick-off, this woman got up and told her personal story and her history with Making Strides. She revealed that she was diagnosed with breast cancer initially at age 31 and again five years later, this time with a more advanced stage. This was followed with "I am now a 15 year survivor from my first diagnosis, and a 10 year survivor from my second diagnosis." She looked great, the picture of glowing health and a passion for a cause that was realized during her battle with cancer. It occurred to me that this could be me, this WOULD be me. When I hear a negative story or a poor outcome, it stays with me, weighing me down with the thought that I won't be any different. I choose to let Teresa's story lift me up and show me what I can be: someone that not only survives this, but thrives in this and finds a purpose that may not have been unveiled without a cancer diagnosis.

After the program ended, I needed to express my gratitude for her story. My eyes filled with tears as I thanked her, and I could barely keep it together. I'm pretty good at keeping myself composed in front of others, so this was a surprise. We started talking and I was introduced to two other women who were with her, one was the event planner for the American Cancer Society and another was a very active volunteer. I expressed my desire to volunteer my time to them and they invited me out to breakfast to continue our discussion.

We went to a nearby diner and I immediately felt at home with these ladies. The talk of the upcoming events thrilled me and brought me back to the days when my career was event planning. Only these fabulous events raise money that will be used to research a cure for cancer. These events were now the most important events I could ever help plan. It was decided that I will join them as a volunteer for future events. I felt fulfilled.

As we were eating, Teresa looked out the window and said "Wow, look at that bird! Is that an eagle or a hawk?" I looked out and answered that it was a hawk. She said "you really don't see hawks too often, do you?"  "I do, I see them all the time." I answered.

Ever since my dad passed away, there are hawks. If I'm driving in my car and crying or struggling with something, I look up, and there's a hawk. If I'm walking Harper in her stroller and thinking of my dad, I look up, and there's a hawk. It became my thing to say "hi Dad" and it became his thing to show me hawks when I was in need. The day of my breast biopsy, on the way to the procedure, a hawk practically skipped across the hood of my car at a stop light. At that moment I had a feeling that something was about to happen that my dad needed to be there for. I had 3 consults to find the best breast surgeon, but when I walked out of the Hershey Breast Center after my consultation, I looked up in the sky and saw multiple hawks. The first thing I saw after leaving my port placement surgery was a hawk. I took these as signs that he was guiding me on the right path. 

On July 28th, the anniversary of my dad's death, my mom and I went out to lunch after church. We drove separately and parked our cars next to each other. As we walked together towards the building, a large hawk flew right over our heads, very close to us, and perched up on and electrical wire above us. There were no grassy areas around us where this hawk would be stalking his prey, only a concrete parking lot. He was round and gray in color, not the usual brown. This was the first time a hawk actually looked like my dad. And he just sat there, watching us, letting us know he was there.

At the diner, this hawk sat in the grass, adjacent to my spot at the window. Then he flew up to the top of a light structure in the parking lot. It felt so normal, seeing this hawk, after all they are always near. But I realized this wasn't true for everyone when I saw that a man had stopped his vehicle in the middle of the parking lot and was taking pictures of this impressive bird with his cell phone camera. Then my hawk made a big show of flying back past us, turning around, and gliding back over the cars directly outside our window. My new friends were amazed and said what I already knew to be true: my Dad was there to let me know that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

 Hi Dad!

Thank you Marsha, Michelle, and Teresa for a lovely breakfast and your infectious enthusiasm for a wonderful cause that has now become my passion. And thank you for validating that this hawk thing is really happening and I'm not a crazy person.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Not a Rainbow Fart

I mentioned earlier today that I didn't want to update my blog when I was feeling depressed, because I didn't want to bring down the world around me. A friend reminded me that this blog is to document how I feel and I'm not here to entertain people with "rainbow farts and unicorns." I laughed my head off and then I thought yeah, she's right. Maybe this will be therapeutic for me.

For the most part, things have been going well lately. Chemo has been uneventful, which is the best you can hope for. Sure I'm tired, have a few aches and pains, and a bald head, but I feel like I'm living a pretty normal life. My counts have been decent and my infusions have all gone as scheduled which is what I want.

I'll go along feeling OK, feeling optimistic, and then I'll read a story. I have been following a bunch of stories on Facebook in recent months about young people with cancer. One was the infamous Talia, a girl whose story touched the entire country. Another was a local guy, a ultra marathon runner who had stage 4 brain cancer. Another was a guy in one of my online cancer support groups-30 years old, a non-smoker, with stage 4 lung cancer. Those are just a few of the stories. Well lately everyone has lost their battle. These are young people who fought for so long and had thousands of people rallying behind them, yet cancer still took them. I find myself sobbing, my heart broken for the family and children they had to leave, the life they missed out on. When you are healthy, you read these stories and you sympathize with the family members. When you have been diagnosed with cancer you read these stories and you empathize with the dying patient. These people, the ones who have passed, were amazing people, people who changed the world and did great things with their lives, far better people than me. Why would I be spared if they weren't? It's a stupid question, but one that creeps into my mind anyway.  I know that none of these stories were mine, in fact, none of these people even had my kind of cancer. But cancer is cancer and it kills people and I have been reminded of it too often lately.

So that's what has been weighing me down. That said, there is always a story of hope to pick me back up. Recently my husband has been traveling to Indiana for work. He always tries to make it back home to come to my Friday chemo appointments with me. While at the factory he was working at he mentioned going home for chemo and a woman stopped him and asked him what type of cancer his wife had. Here, she too had breast cancer at age 32 and went through chemotherapy. She was now 39 years old and cancer free. These are the stories I cling to. One of my favorites that I have saved on my phone is a woman who was diagnosed when her son was a few months old. She went through extensive treatments and was told that the cancer would probably come back. To this day she is cancer free, and her "baby" is now 32 years old. I have no reason to believe that I won't be telling the same story!

Oh another thing that really burns me up-literally-is chemopause. Chemotherapy puts a woman into menopause, hence the term chemopause. It's actually a really good thing. If my ovaries aren't working, then they aren't producing estrogen aka cancer juice. I want this chemopause, in fact once it's over, I will probably seek out menopause through shots that shut down the ovaries or by getting my ovaries removed. While I think my oncologist thinks that this is extreme at my age, I personally feel that it is essential to beating this disease.  So menopause is something I need to get used to, and it takes a whole lot of getting used to. Hot flashes are no joke! My friend Margo calls them a "personal summer". My least favorite season. I keep the fan on full blast at night so I can kick off the covers, covered in sweat, only to have to bundle up minutes later when it passes. Luckily (or unluckily?) they mostly happen at night, so while I don't ever have a restful sleep, I don't have to worry about being a huge sweaty pig in front of many people.

Speaking of pigs, I am so bummed out about this constant weight gain. I knew this was a threat, that most women gain weight on chemotherapy for breast cancer, but it doesn't make looking at the constantly moving scale any easier. It reminds me so much of when I was pregnant, although I could blame some of the increase on the growing baby and I knew that I could breast feed to lose the weight. Now I don't even have breasts! What the hell?! Is this really my life?

That's something I've said a lot lately. You really do adapt to shitty situations but then all of a sudden, the reality of it all hits you and it's just too much to think on. Cigna informed me yesterday that they have approved me for Long Term Disability. I need to fill out a lot of paperwork and my employer also requires that I file for Social Security if I'm going out on LTD. Social Security? I didn't know I was 70. Excuse me while I have a hot flash. Is this really my life?

Tissue expanders. I am now rocking about 500 cc's of saline in my rock hard chest. I really worry that I'm going to knock the wind out of people when I hug them. It's actually kind of comical, as my new "foobs" are a couple inches higher than my old set. So a bunch of shirts that used to be low cut and cleavage baring, now fully expose a foob. My implant exchange is a year away so I better get used to it. Until then, I dream of soft squishy implants at night, in between hot flashes.

I'll end on a good note. My hair is growing! Everywhere. I actually have to shave my legs on the regular again! That sucks but it's nice to do something normal. The hair on my head increases every day and I'm hopeful that by the end of chemo, I actually look like I have hair, even if it's just the G.I. Jane look. It's strange to me that my hair is growing on chemo (what happened to destroying rapidly dividing cells?) but I heard that this happens often with Taxol so I'll take it!