Friday, June 17, 2011

Hair's Looking at You!

Here comes the hair again
I haven't written an update on my life as a full-time cancer patient for awhile for a couple of reasons.  First, I am tired of it already.  The six weeks after chemo were pretty brutal.  It all seemed to catch up, and I felt weak, exhausted, and totally beat up.  I lost my favorite cat, Jake, who spent the last six months constantly on my lap.  At nearly 17, he did his best to stick it out to the end, but after my last chemo, I knew it was time to say goodbye.  Even though it nearly killed me.

Jake's final resting spot overlooking the garden

Then followed seven weeks of daily visits to the hospital for radiation (some days, two trips, if an infusion or follow up visit was scheduled).  The treatment itself doesn't take but a couple of minutes, and AGMC conveniently lets you park right by the door, so you're in and out.  I was the last appointment of the day,  4:40, and was on time except for one day when there was an hour back-up, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it.  (They changed appointment intervals from 15 to 20 minutes, which really helped)

The first five weeks were no big deal.  Then it started to look like I'd laid out in the sun with one of the girls exposed. It started to itch.  And then by week six it was burnt, raw, and weeping underneath.  A bra was out of the question.  I didn't make many public appearances that week.  Of course, every time I did, I'd run into someone I knew. A giant vat of cream was dispensed to prevent infection, but it didn't really do anything to address the pain. 

One of my radiology techs explained it like this: Radiation is like getting kicked by a little girl.  It doesn't hurt much at first, but after six weeks, it starts  to get bad.  Then after she stops, it still hurts for a few weeks.   Which about sums it up. 

Just about when I was ready to yell "Uncle", they switch from from full breast radiation to a booster that targets just the area where your tumor was removed on the theory that is where the cancer is most likely to return.  I got a big green sharpie X (they'd noticed green was my favorite color after say, 26 trips) to mark the spot.  By the last week I was wearing stretchy workout bras 24 hours a day. 

So radiation is over.  I got a hug from one of the valets on my last visit.  And all in all, it wasn't that bad, but it sucks up a huge chunk of time, because even though the round trip and treatment amounted to a hour a day, you have to plan everything around that hour, then multiply by 35 days.  So it's a drag. 

I'm still on the 21 day infusion schedule for Herceptin.  I had one this week.  No real side effects, which is refreshing. 

The other reason I just didn't feel like writing about it, is that I've already gotten a "It's baaaack" scare.  I have to say, honestly, until that day I was pretty much whistling on the sunny side of the street.  The tumor is gone.  It hadn't spread.  And they have been bombing the ever loving shit out of me for six damn months.  How on earth could there be any more?

I had an ultrasound on an area that my surgeon wanted to check before radiation which everyone agreed was most likely some scar tissue.  Then I had a pre-radiation CAT scan. 

A couple of weeks into radiation, my radiology oncologist, who is as sweet as can be, but doesn't speak English very well, poked me in a new area, and all I caught was "New tumor...I'll talk to your surgeon...Biopsy".   She was gone before I started connecting the dots and my head started spinning.  I decided (after a very expensive bottle of wine - hey, why not?), to call my surgeon the next day and ask her what was going on. 

Which I did, and she was out of town for a week.  You can imagine how much fun that week was for me.    I did a few "can't take it with you" shopping sprees.  Thankfully I did it at the garden center, where the worst damage was a $60 peony. 

I stopped by the surgeon's office to ask to have her call me, and ran into her, so she saw me right away.  I told her what happened.  She said she'd check the films and talk to the other doc.  When she pulled up my files, she noted that I'd had a CT in 2007.  Said she'd check that film against the new one.   But we also discussed the possibility of it being a chemo-resistant tumor (WTF, is what I was thinking), and the possibility of mastectomy and reconstruction.  She promised to check everything out and call me the next day. 

Turns out whatever the hell it was, which is not even really on my breast, it's in between, was there on 2007 film, and after discussion all around, was determined nothing to be worried about.  Thanks, can I get the two years just scared off my life back? 

So I am grateful that it is indeed not back.  Can you imagine running the marathon, getting past the side stitches, puke your guts out phase, almost getting to the finish line and being told to go back to the starting line?  Me neither. 

My appetite is back, my taste buds have returned from hiatus, and I am no longer a stranger at the gym.  And my hair is coming back, as you can see.  Some days I forget that I am still nearly bald, but the looks I get in public, ranging from that half pity smile, to confusion, remind me.  I think the two bald by choice ladies competing on The Voice are feeding the confusion - lol.

There was an article in the New York Times this week with a list of what not to say to the sick.  I don't totally agree with his list.  "What can I do for you?" was his number one, and he suggested just plunging in and cleaning the fridge, doing the dishes, etc.  My number one is "Call me if you need anything".  It's nice, lots of people say it, but it's a chip that never gets cashed in.  Even the night I was laying on the floor after a bout of dry heaves and vertigo.

The one person who called me regularly and asked "What can I do for you?" is the one that helped me the most.  And I'm really going to miss her when she moves to Chicago. 

The article author also dissed "Sending you thoughts and prayers".  I appreciated those; can't hurt, might help.  The shiny new bible and unsolicited supplements, not so much.  "You look good", he hates as well.  Doesn't bother me.  Even if you are lying. 

Through this journey I have learned that there are always people who stun you with their ability to kick you when you're down (Quote from ex-relative:  "Dude, chemo....that's so rough....Does someone have to take you (meaning: not me)?" Adult woman, in case you were confused by the "Dude"), and that there are people who will delight you with their presence and support when you need it the most.  Fuck the former and bless the latter.  Amen.


  1. This post turned me into a blubbering idiot. Some are happy tears that you are so close to being done and some are sad tears that you have had to endure this. You do look great ;-) and I adore and admire you.

  2. Ah, I remember these feelings well--and they all came rushing back (especially the "fuck the former and bless the latter"!!)reading this. Every single person I know who has been through chemo and radiation, including me, has had the scare of "it's baaaack!!" within 6 months of finishing treatment. They should just warn us it will happen! I'm glad to hear it turned out okay. I'm so sorry to hear about your cat. That's simply too much at one time. Too, too much.

  3. I'm glad you're back, I've missed you! It has been a long winter and I'm glad that you are able to enjoy spring in your garden and a summer full of delicious fresh food!

  4. AWESOME article - and I mean that in the best way possible! I've learned that the people who really DO care and DO understand, will be the people who DON'T have to say anything. They are just there and will always be there....just THERE, whatever THERE means to you. To me it means in your heart. :)

  5. You are a strong woman! Hope you are doing well.. =/

    I was walking past the mental hospital the other day,
    And all the patients were shouting, '13....13....13.'

    The fence was too high to see over, but I saw a
    Little gap in the planks, so I looked through to see
    What was going on.....

    Some idiot poked me in the eye with a stick!

    Then they all started shouting '14....14....14'....


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