Monthly Archives: November 2011

My First Week as an Inductee

Well its been about 9 days since my first chemo treatment and I am almost feeling normal again. For all those giddy,  gushing recent survivors of breast cancer who told me how they never felt nauseous, except for at the end, how they were able to work and move along at their normal life pace I say” Poppycock!”

I haven’t been able to move from my bed. I attempted 2 walks – which normally are as easy as breathing for me.  It took everything I had to finish them – and I wasn’t pleasant to anyone I passed along the way.  In one exchange of complete misunderstanding, I snipped at a biker that he had killed something in his path. He skulked away sheepishly before I even grasped what had been uttered between us. Then I actually smiled for making someone feel nearly as terrible as I did, even if it was a complete misunderstanding.  I’m not sure I like the person cancer is making of me.

The treatment itself wasn’t so bad. I’ve had a port put in my left shoulder to make it easier to administer, as well as draw blood and such. My veins are tiny and collapse easily, so a week of tests and procedures the week before had left my arms badly bruised and my veins impenetrable. The port procedure wasn’t so bad, but I wasn’t up and running as quickly as everyone would have had me think. After the meds wore off the pain set in and I couldn’t move my shoulder backward for a few days, which made dressing difficult.  Yes, it did make the chemo administration easier.

The chemo itself KO’d me for at least three days. Thanksgiving – which was 2 days after the first treatment – I had enough energy to eat, but then slept. Thank god my mother hosted it for me. By Friday I was ready to admit defeat. Cancer could have me if this was the cost. I didn’t have any fight in me at all – and even now that I’m feeling better,  I’d still say the cancer has even odds. Funny, the thought of a tumor that’s no bigger than an ice-cube taking me out. Wonders never cease to amaze me.

Nausea wasted me for the next three days. Yes, they do give you meds for that and I did take them and sometimes they worked, but left me lifeless, and sometimes they just kept the nausea enough at bay that it was unsettling and draining. This morning is the first time I actually vomitted, but that was in response to gargling with hydrogen peroxide to ward off mouth infections. Have I mentioned yet how much this all sucks?

By now you’ve probably considered that I’m a whiney, miserable wretch who has no gratitude for the gift of life I’m being given by all of this. I mean really, what’s the loss of a breast or two , some hair – oh yeah, that went the Sunday before treatment. Now I really look the part of an inductee –  and a few months of motion sickness in order to survive, maybe even thrive one day in spite of this? I admit you’ve got a point. And I’ve been working on that. Everyday I write a gratitude journal – things I appreciate about the day, even if it’s just that I got through it. Somewhere I read or heard that if you keep a gratitude journal for 30 days, your mind finally comes around and everything looks rosy again. I’ll let you know when I hit day 30.

I have also found some solace in a guided imagery CD called Health Journeys: A Meditation to Help with Chemotherapy. It’s definitely been a great help and I highly recommend it.

I am almost getting comfortable being bald, going so far as to leave the wig off while I’m home and letting my husband see me with my new inductee crew cut. He is very kind and tells me I look like Sinead O’Connor, a heart-throb of his, even though I know I don’t – I look more like a middle-aged Buddhist nun. But sometimes I catch myself in the mirror after a particularly spunky retort has come to me after some cruelty has been meted out by a Muggle – the name I use to refer to people who have never been touched by cancer and therefore have no idea the depths of pain, suffering, chance blows, wrath and tears dealt by some random clutch of circumstance – and I see how my smile defines my face in a way that no hair ever could. And I think to my self as I look at that stranger smiling back at me – “Hey you, I’m rooting for you!”

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My last day as a civilian

I am one of breast cancer’s newest recruits. Today is my last day as a civilian. Tomorrow I will have a port put in my shoulder to make the chemo easier to administer. In 2 more days I’ll have my head shaved. In 3 days, chemo will start.

I have a tumor in my right breast, and so have been drafted into a war I have no interest in, no skin in the game.  Yet I’m now in a fight for my life. I know it’s a war I will return home from – albeit scarred, wounded, sacrificed.  I will lose at least one breast, maybe both.  In the short-term I will lose my hair and my immune system will go offline.  When I return, my life will be pretty much the way it is now – although maybe I won’t be as angry. Maybe along the way I’ll find acceptance.

Right now I am angry, very angry. How could this happen to ME? Me, who ate all the right things, who exercised, didn’t smoke, gave up red meat at 18 years old, who developed coping skills to deflect stress,  who stayed attuned to her body – her temple? Me who has no family history of breast cancer. How did I become THE 1 woman in 7 who gets this? Author Nassim Taleb (Black Swan – the Impact of the Highly Improbable) would say I feel that way because I was raised a Protestant, with the belief that if I worked hard and lived right I would be rewarded. He says that life is random and that it’s how we react to the highly improbable things that happen to us that charts the direction of our lives and makes us who we are. I say that still doesn’t make me feel any better.

Now I give my temple over to a special ops team I call chemo to fight an Al Qaeda-like force called cancer.  My temple desecrated,  my kingdom decimated. Shortly I will take my final shower where I’ll wash my hair for the last time.  I can’t shower for 5 days once the port goes in. I’ll shear my head in 3 days. It’s my last act of defiance, the last call I get to make about my body before the special ops force moves in.  Chemo may take my hair, but at least I get a say about when it goes.  The American Cancer Society has given me a free wig,  one that’s real hair. I’m having it styled to look like my own and the way it feels when it hangs on my shoulders is comforting. I’ll be able to pull it back in a pony tail, which will add a sense of normalcy to a life and body I’ve lost control of.

This is the last day of my old life, the one where I was healthy, where I was whole, where I had all my body parts. I imagine tomorrow I won’t feel much different.  But a chain of events will begin that will change me forever, even if it leaves me feeling pretty much the same. I’m angry about that too – that I will go through the hell the next year requires just to get back to where I already am.  I don’t feel like someone who has cancer, who is in a battle for her life, whose body has been invaded by a killer. I run, I bike, I walk, I swim, I laugh and I cry with as much vigor as I ever have. And so I feel betrayed by everything I ever knew about me, about my body, about life.

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