Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mixed Feelings About Chemo's End

My mind has been pretty messed up lately, but what else is new? Are you sick of hearing about it yet? I don't have a lot of physical symptoms to go on about and my mental and emotional wreckage takes the cake of my worst chemo side effects.

My next chemo, on Friday the 13th, is my last. I'm slightly nervous about the Friday the 13th thing as I've always had rotten ones so hopefully this is the opportunity to turn the day around. Or I can expect bad labs and an anaphylactic reaction, we will see. I'm ridiculously excited to be done. I've ordered 4 dozen cupcakes (funfetti w/white buttercream and pumpkin w/cream cheese icing, both with pink breast cancer ribbons) for the nurses and anyone who wants to come to see me ring the bell. My chemo is at 9:30 so my assumption is that I'll be ringing the bell around 1130 or noon.

I'm scared to end chemo. The ritual of my Fridays is comforting, right down to the smell of the alcohol swabs that clean my port, and the needle stick that I always hold my breathe for. The familiar faces of the nurses I see every week and the welcoming chemo room with the comfy chair or bed, make me feel safe. The drugs they give me before the infusion makes me feel warm and sleepy and the chemotherapy makes me feel like I'm taking action in this fight, using a weapon of mass destruction on circulating cancer cells. I am always happiest on infusion days and it has a lot to do with what I just described. I show up to the big fight on those days.

The days after chemo, I show up to the couch. I show up to the iPad which tells me stories of women with better prognosis than myself who are now stage 4. And then fear and anxiety are the ones who show up, and I cry for the biggest thing I lost this year: the assumption that I would grow to an old woman and live a normal life span, and the innocence that goes along with it. I understand that any of us could get run over by a bus tomorrow, and that if my cancer does come back, what sense is wasting the mean time with worry? I understand that the majority of patients with my stage of cancer and treatment are alive 10 years from now, but what about 20 years from now? And what about the 20% of the women that aren't alive at 10 years? How were they different from me? How can I make sure I'm different from them?

I'm trying to stop blaming myself for getting breast cancer. I've never blamed any of the breast cancer survivors I know in real life, or the women whose stories I've read on the net. So why do I constantly ponder if its the heavy drinking I did in college or the years after, the parabens in all the fancy lotions and makeup I bought, assuming the more expensive, the better for you. Maybe it was because I was young and vain and used a tanning bed years ago. Or was it that chest CT scan I had in 2007? Maybe it's because I'm lazy, and not a good cook, so I nuked a lot of meals. Maybe it's the diet soda, maybe it was my addiction to chocolate. If you look up legit risk factors, I had 3. 1. I'm a woman with breasts, 2. I started menstruating at the early age of 9, and 3. I waited until after 30 to have a baby. I did, however, breast feed my baby which is supposed to reduce risk, maintained a healthy body weight, hardly drank in recent years, and sucked down the green tea. I will never know if I did something to cause this but if I don't blame other women, why do I blame myself?

Another realm of the depression is coming to light: how do I acclimate back into normal life when life will never be normal again.  I can't pretend that this never happened, that I'm not scared of the future, and that I'm anywhere near the person I was 7 months ago. To boot, I don't even physically resemble her anymore so the reminder is in the mirror daily. Those in cancerland speak of a "new normal" but I don't know what that is yet. To me it sounds like a version of life that is somewhat like the way life used to be, with a heavy fog of fear hanging over it.

Last Thursday was a really bad day. I'm not sure why, there was no particular event that set me off, but I spent most of the morning crying. It was just one of those days where the reality of everything that I've been through in the last six months had sunk in a little deeper. I was able to express some of my fears to my husband, which was somewhat therapeutic but I was still pretty despondent. Right before lunch time, Eric came down stairs and said "Put your shoes on, we're going for a walk." We ended up doing jogging and walking intervals. I must be a sad sight to see me when I'm trying to jog, my body is 15 pounds heavier than it used to be, my legs are like cement, and my muscles have wasted from a summer on the couch. I felt like I was going to die, but afterwards I felt much more alive than I had that morning. And I figured out the answer of what I should do in this "new normal": RUN. Run from the cancer. One week after chemo ends, I will be lacing up my shoes and starting a couch to 5K program with the goal of running a 5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon, and eventually a marathon. I've never had a reason to run before now. Until now, I never had something chasing me.