So I know I should have written this sooner, but life doesn’t stop and neither could I. My sixth and final chemo treatment came and went. There were no bells, sirens, confetti or streamers. There were no cakes, no candles, no toasts. It was just as if it was any other ordinary day. I left the hospital seeing familiar faces continue their fight, and new ones cautiously starting theirs. Graham’s mom came to visit, and I couldn’t have been more appreciative. The sixth time through was the toughest, and why shouldn’t it have been? The girls both had high fevers and ear infections. It was just a little harder to get up and move around, but I had to force myself. I had to continue to eat 5 small meals a day, and stay on top of the medication – colace, steroids and nexium the morning and night the day before and the day of; colace, steroids, nexium and then the anti-nausea meds the day after; all except the steroids the day after that, and then just the colace and nexium until my bowel movements were normal and until I felt the heartburn wouldn’t return. One full week afterwards, and I felt I survived it.
Now how do I feel? Well, I still look like cancer. Thank God I kept my eyelashes, because my eyebrows are gone, and my head is just a bit of fuzz. The underside of my right arm where they removed the 24 lymph nodes still has a numbing, stinging sensation that they say may stay around for several years. The fact that I have complete movement of my right arm still impresses all of the specialists that examine me. However, I need to be cautious for the rest of my life of getting lymphodema, the swelling of the arm, when I fly on airplanes. It happened on the flight to New Orleans over Christmas when the trip reached beyond three hours due to bad weather. Even with an ace bandage wound tightly from my fingertips to my armpit, it swole up and was tender to touch. Luckily, it went back to normal that night. My sense of taste is still off, needing extreme salt or spices to even get a hint of flavor. And unfortunately still, and have been throughout all of treatment, have been able to taste sweets. How can I tell? Because of the 10 pounds I gained over the past 5 months! I promised Graham I wouldn’t diet during chemo, but I must start and continue through radiation. Now that I have the breasts I’ve always yearned for, I must get my tummy back! Hot flashes continue to come and go. That’s right, I have hit pre-menopause. My last period was December 7th. And in case you’re wondering, no, there’s no possible chance I’m pregnant. (Not that I’m not getting any, cause I am! Ok, not nearly as much as normal, but that IUD comes in handy.) I now understand why women chop their hair off during menopause. The heat that is expelled from my body in a matter of seconds is insane. My scalp is cold one minute and before the next needs oven mitts to handle. I dress in layers while it’s less than 30 degrees out only to constantly put my clothes on and off throughout the entire day.
This all has become my new ‘normal’ without any say in the matter. Well, of course I have a say, but doing nothing really was never an option. Imagining what would have happened to me had I never gotten that little lump checked out gets me choked up at the very idea. During my last seven months, I’ve known two women to die from cancer. One that I held dear, and fought for several years before dying with her loved ones near. Another that I only met once, found out that she was terminal in the fall, and died months later. And on the other hand, there are two other women that I know who have found out they have cancer as well and are beginning their fight. One is a young mother that I grew up with, found out, is having surgery and so far is early enough that no further treatment may be required. And the other is my aunt, who went in for her annual mammogram, and was told there was something suspicious. After biopsies proved positive for cancer, the doctors recommended a lumpectomy (surgery that removes the tumor) and 6 weeks of radiation. But because of her two other debilitating diseases which require her to be on medication, which would have to cease until radiation is complete, she has opted for a double mastectomy and to just be done. These two women now have a new ‘normal,’ a label of being able to say, ‘I’m a cancer survivor.’
As I reached the third week after my final chemo treatment, the time which on schedule I would have gone in, gotten my vitals checked, waited my turn, sat in the recliner, and pulled my sleeve, confirmed my birthdate and then chemo number, and sat as they injected me with the Red Devil – I actually felt my body jonesing for the toxins, as disturbing as that sounds. There were two days that I felt a bit of chemo withdrawal. My muscles ceased up. My step was slow. My appetite was cautious. I had to kick it into gear. No you don’t need that, I would tell myself. But as I met with my Medical Oncologist, then Breast Surgeon, there’s no guarantee that it’s all completely gone, and definitely no guarantee that it won’t ever return. While the Oncologist and I agree to a pet scan three months after radiation to confirm ‘cancer free’ as much as possible, it truly comes back to just simply knowing your body. After all of this, that’s what I’m left with, and in a sense I’m fine with it. I trusted it before. There’s no reason I can’t go back to that logic now.