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Archive for the tag “chemotherapy”

You’re a cancer survivor – a bullet list

  • One day you feel a lump in your boob. Machines create images, doctors test a chunk. It’s cancer.
  • People say you’re a survivor the moment you announce your diagnosis. You think, “huh? What’d I do?”
  • Treatment begins in early May and concludes in late December. Start the new year clean, you think.
  • Through it all no one allows you to talk about the possibility of your death. It’s taboo.
  • 6 rounds of chemo didn’t kill all the cancer, but surgeon got the last bit. Radiation to seal the deal.
  • You think about what else the chemo might have missed. In places the docs aren’t looking.
  • You move from the apartment you’ve inhabited for 10 years to a big house with a huge yard.
  • Your brain feels foggy and you’re sure the cancer’s in your brain. It’s not.
  • You finish Herceptin in April, and begin hormone treatment that will last for five years.
  • Hot flashes ensue, along with joint pain that wakes you at night. Your knees sound like Velcro ripping.
  • You gain 15 pounds from the sudden menopause. Dropping to 500 calories a day doesn’t help.
  • You accept being plus-sized, and buy new clothes. Your age has made you invisible anyway.
  • You visit the oncologist every three months for an injection that shuts your ovaries down.
  • The joint pain is so bad your oncologist switches you to a different hormone medication.
  • Your oncologist tells you the new recommendation is 10 years of hormone meds. Not five.
  • Your joints feel better but you gain another 10 pounds in the space of two weeks. Right in the belly.

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  • You go back to college online and take on freelance work for the first time in a couple years.
  • You get a rash on your “bad” boob and panic that it’s Inflammatory Breast Cancer.
  • You consult your posse of  survivor friends. They reassure you, but tell you to go in.
  • It’s not inflammatory breast cancer. Either the antibiotics or steroid cream fixed it. You feel dumb.
  • You pass your first post-cancer mammogram with flying colors. You were expecting bad news.
  • Of your survivor posse, one has stage IV, after “beating it” nearly three years prior.
  • On next oncology visit you complain about weight gain. Obesity increases your chance of recurrence.
  • Doctor switches you back to original meds. You don’t lose any weight and the joint pain returns.
  • You pin all your hopes for the future and redemption for millennia of oppression on Hillary Clinton.
  • On election night you go to bed with a mouthful of marijuana oil before all the votes are in.
  • When you wake up and remember, you briefly consider suicide and settle for stopping your meds.
  • You gain another 20 pounds in anger, disbelief, and heartbreak. You get a safety pin tattoo.
  • In school you study psychology and plan to work with hospice patients and families.
  • You apply to volunteer in hospice, visiting patients. Your Stage IV friend tells you it’s your calling.
  • Your Stage IV friend asks if your brownie troop can come to her house and plant tulips.
  • Before you can gather the girls for the tulip project, your friend goes into hospice herself.
  • On the way to visit you think about what she’ll say. Maybe you’ll make a deathbed promise.
  • She doesn’t speak or open her eyes. You brought a huge bouquet of tulips that seem cruel now.
  • On your first day of hospice volunteer training, your Stage IV friend dies.
  • At the funeral you connect with a coworker from early in your career. She’s a survivor too.
  • That’s four of you, from just one small department in one company. Stats? Or the water?
  • At home you casually talk about what you’d like at your funeral. Your youngest stares at you.
  • You don’t think she knows that cancer kills people. You’d talked about sickness, but never death.
  • After your friend’s death you go back on your medication. Because not to insults her memory.
  • You take on tons of freelance work and study hard. You make money, contacts, and the Dean’s List.
  • Math and a new full-time job defeat you at school and you drop out of college for the fourth time.
  • You go on vacation and don’t take your medication. You don’t bother to start again at home.
  • You move into your dream house in a Norman Rockwell neighborhood where kids roam free.
  • Every night in the new house you dream about cancer. Here’s what you dream:
  • You dream about sobbing and clinging to your mother as you say “Mommy, I think I’m sick again.”
  • You dream about wasting away in a hospital bed, too weak to lift a book to read it.
  • You don’t think you’re psychic or clairvoyant. But what if the dream is a message from your body?
  • Twice, when you’ve dreamed your teeth fell out, you’ve been ill. Mono and pneumonia.
  • A friend dreamed her dead mother told her she had breast cancer. And she did.
  • You say, “I had a weird dream last night” “Was it about cancer coming back? I don’t want to hear it.”
  • You can’t talk to anyone about your fears. You just wallow in it. Silently. Alone.
  • You think about the new house and where you’ll convalesce. You buy a swing chair for the backyard.
  • You plan how to turn your new library into a bedroom and how you’ll watch the birds as you die.
  • You go camping to watch the total eclipse. You wonder if you’ll be alive for the next one.
  • The chest pain gets worse. One day at work you find yourself holding a cold can to your chest.
  • You have trouble catching your breath. You drive to the Emergency Room. You tell no one.
  • Your EKG, blood tests and chest X-ray are all clear. You’re a fool. You’re a hypochondriac.
  • You miss a big meeting, and confess to your boss you’re at the hospital.
  • You don’t want him to think you’re a sick person. You don’t think he knows about the cancer.
  • You’re already the oldest, fattest, most unsightly member of the team. You can’t afford more.
  • Your job is stressful and your brain isn’t as sharp as it was. Is it ageing or chemo or both?
  • Google tells you former smokers have an increased chance of lung metastasis.
  • At your oncology appointment you tell him about your chest pain. He refutes your Google information.
  • Your oncologist orders a CT scan to rule out pulmonary embolism and cancer. Refills meds.
  • He emails you late that night to tell you it’s clear. There’s something in your lung, but not cancer.
  • A regular doctor diagnoses an inflammation in the cartilage between sternum and ribs.
  • Prednisone clears up the lungs, and your eczema, plus your joint pain. But only for a week.
  • You feel relieved that the cancer’s not back so you go ahead with your plans to lead a new Brownie troop.
  • You want to just LIVE, but it’s always there in the back –and often front—of your mind. Cancer.
  • You wanted your life to be more meaningful, but you’ve quit school and haven’t done hospice work.
  • This is how you survive. Living between the recurrence nightmares. Pretending you’re “better.”
  • But deep down you’re convinced that cancer isn’t done with you yet.
  • And the only way to prove otherwise is to die of something else.
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Breast Cancer: The End.

It is done.

What began with a lump almost one year ago is finally over.

From the diagnosis

Turdy the tumor ultrasound

Darth Turdy

Through six rounds of chemotherapy

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Rocking the chrome dome during Round 3

Surgery on my breast and lymphnodes

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Damn you, cancer!

and 30 doses of radiation,

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this blog has been a place for me to collect my thoughts, sort out how I felt about what was happening to me, document the experience for the future, and sort of inadvertently–though in the end most importantly–help fellow cancer patients feel they weren’t alone.

I went from this:

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1st dose chemo. May 5, 1015

To this:

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Today. December 30, 2015

Thank you for going along for the ride. Thank you for not turning away from the ugly realities of scars and chemo shits, peeling nipples and weakness, doubt, and flat-out terror. You kept me going, readers.

What’s next?

First, the end is not the end. The day after my final dose of radiation, I was back at the hospital for an echocardiogram. I’ve got Herceptin infusions every three weeks until May. I’ll start a five-year hormone therapy treatment mid-January, and in the interim I’ll have a bone-density test and another MRI on the “good” boob. I’ll have diagnostic-level mammograms for the next three years. I told my daughter all this isn’t fighting cancer because the cancer is gone. It’s more like treatment that says “…And STAY OUT!”

IMG_4398Because of all this ongoing…stuff, it’s been sort of hard for me to call this “the end.” Then I received a fancy bottle of champagne from my dear friend Sara. I mean, how could you NOT celebrate with this? So I decided to stick a pin in this moment and create a milestone. This is the end of one journey. I made it. And now it’s behind me.

There WILL be a celebration. I’m still figuring out the details. Is it selfish to throw yourself a I Kicked Cancer’s Ass party? Would anyone show up? I want to celebrate it being over of course, but I also want to celebrate the friends and family and even strangers who made it easier.

 

Chemo Tips for Cancer Buddies

cancer_card_by_patchSince I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in March 2015, three women I know have joined the sisterhood. Two of them found it early enough to get by with surgery plus radiation, but one is about to embark on a few rounds of chemotherapy. She reached out to me for advice and I realized that I actually do have some. And since I’m ostensibly writing this cancer junk for fellow cancer peeps (what? do I call us “patients” “victims” “sufferers”? If you’re currently in treatment are you a “survivor”? What about my friend that beat Stage 2 only to have it metastasize three years later in her lungs, brain, and bones? Is she a “former survivor”? Because you can fight and hold off and delay, but ladies and gents, you don’t survive Stage 4), I do believe it is time to bust out my…

CHEMO TIPS FOR CANCER BUDDIES!

  1. Say goodbye to your hair. Don’t listen to anyone (hi Mom) who suggests “Maybe you won’t lose your hair!”. You’re going to lose it. You can cry about it, you can turn it into a party or you can do both. Most people shave their heads when they reach some point of critical wispyness. It’s a matter of taking charge; of doing instead of being done to. Each of my three kids plus my husband had a go at cutting my hair and then using the clippers. And it was fun. It actually was. I believe it really helped my youngest (age six) deal with the way Mommy’s look was changing. I’d imagined a sobbing breakdown once I got a good look in the mirror, but that didn’t happen. It turns out my skull is rather nicely shaped. My Dad reports that my great-grandmother upon meeting me as a baby declared my head “perfect.” IMG_1884
  2. Embrace the bald. Try out crazy wigs. Enjoy hats. Go straight-up cue ball. 99% of the time I keep covered up so as not to freak people out, but if I need special treatment or consideration somewhere I have absolutely no shame about whipping my hat off. You just don’t say no to Chemo Girl. Also, enjoy the benefits of bald. Take super quick showers! Save money on shampoo, conditioner, unguents and elixirs. Take back all the time you won’t be blow-drying, hot-rolling, or flat-ironing! No more bad hair days, baby!

    Rocking the chrome dome during Round 3

    Rocking the chrome dome during Round 3

  3. Embrace the other bald. Enjoy smooth never-need-shaving legs and armpits (remember the quick showers I promised you?). Two more words: Free Brazilian.
  4. Be selfish. Seriously. You can do no wrong right now because you have cancer. You won the Lottery of Suck so you get to take long naps, avoid housework, bail on social engagements, not sign up for shit at the kids’ school, hog the remote, hog the covers, eat the last cookie, and just let everyone else deal with “stuff.” I mean, don’t be a dick. Just…act like a dude for a few months. (Kidding. Sort of.)
  5. Invest in Imodium and flushable wipes. The chemo-shits are bad, yo. You are going to poop like you have never pooped before and your little butthole is going to beg for mercy. So do yourself a favor and baby your bum. I’m serious about the Imodium, too. Keep some with you at all times.
  6. Don’t go to chemo alone. Remember all those people that offered to help when you announced your cancer? Now is the time to take them up on it. Choose someone to accompany you to each round of chemo. Someone to pick your ass up at home, drive you to the hospital, sit with you and amuse you, and then drive your ass back home. If you’re very popular you can have them do shifts. Chemo takes a long-ass time. I planned to do a bunch of stuff during chemo (sleep, do my nails, read), and ended up doing none of them. I chatted with my friends and the nurses, munched on snacks, played with my phone. You know what? I had a good time. I laughed a lot. Take your friends and host a chemo party.

    Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

    Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

  7. Be a wuss. Look, for no reason at all you drew the short straw and got cancer. You don’t have to be a tough broad or a good soldier or a warrior woman. All you have to do is GET THROUGH IT and you’re a rock star. So don’t try to keep doing PTA shit when you want to curl in a ball and cry. Curl in a fucking ball, girl. You deserve a good cry! If your heart races and you get the cold sweats changing the sheets on the bed? STOP. Sit the fuck down and let someone else do that shit. You have cancer. Or sleep in dirty sheets, who cares! What’s the worst that can happen–you already have cancer! Honestly, here’s a secret. When you have cancer people are required to be nice to you. They’ll tell you you’re beautiful when you look like a damn gargoyle and they’ll tell you you’re brave when you’re a blubbering puddle of self-pity. People don’t judge the cancer-striken. They just thank fuck it’s not them.
  8. Say goodbye to food. If the nausea don’t get you, the chemo-taste will. Food will, for increasingly long periods of time as your chemo progresses, be the enemy. You won’t want to eat it, smell it, or have anything to do with it. And yet it will become your prime obsession. Because you know you need it to rebuild your good (non-cancery) cells, and you haven’t eaten anything except for a raisin in three days. So all day you will ponder this ponder: What could I eat? What could I choke down? Strolling through the aisles of the grocery store can help here. If something catches your eye, take it home. Take three or four or a dozen “maybes” home and try them. Something that was fine last week might be a no-go this week, so keep trying. Chicken broth and dill pickles were the only thing that kept me alive during the back half of chemo. dill pickles
  9. Find what works for you. Now is not the time to try and “power through” anything. If you hurt, take a pain pill. Your doctor will give you the good ones because people don’t fuck around with cancer patients. If your nausea meds don’t work, try another. Try ginger candy. Try pot. Try acupuncture. And if nothing works, just keep reminding yourself that this is not the rest of your life. Chemo comes to an end.
  10. Make friends with chaos. You’re the one that keeps the trains running, right? Who makes the appointments and keeps the social calendar and is the organizer and the arranger and the scheduler and the cleaner-upper. Well, the trains are going off the rails. People will try to “pitch in.” But your immediate family is suffering too. They aren’t running at full capacity either because they’re worried and trying to be strong and crying when they think you’re not looking. So. Do you want to spend 4 or 6 or 11 rounds of chemo feeling like a failure watching the laundry pile up and the homework get left behind and the mess accumulate everywhere you look? You do not. This is where that laminated Cancer Card comes in. You play it and you play it hard. Mostly, you’ll need to play it on yourself. Your bones ache from the bone-marrow booster shot you got to keep your white count from plummeting. Is this a good time to mop the kitchen floor or scrub toilets? It is not. Sit the fuck down, pull up a blanket or a pet and watch a Law & Order: SVU marathon. You can clean your house when your body isn’t involved in chemical warfare with a deadly disease. smile and nod
  11. Smile and nod. Don’t kill. People are going to suggest things to you that will make your blood boil. That refined sugar gave you cancer and that your penchant for peanut butter cups is tantamount to a deathwish. That supplements or prayer/positive thinking or Corn Nuts are more effective at killing cancer than medicine. That drinking smoothies and eating lean protein will help you feel energetic through chemo–never mind that you can’t drink water without gagging. Don’t argue, don’t punch them. Just smile and nod. They do mean well.
  12. Connect with cancer buddies. Find people who have been through it or are going through it. Because they are the only ones who understand what this feels like. And they aren’t the ones sending you emails about how you gave yourself cancer by drinking soda or living near power lines. They won’t change the subject when you talk about being afraid of dying. You can tell them how you REALLY feel, not just “oh, fine.” They won’t discount your aches and pains or try to “solve” you. They get it. Find these buddies and keep them close. And when you’re past this shit and you’re a “survivor” reach out to the newbs and be there for them.

Next time: Chemo Tips for Family and Friends.

Cancer is full of SCIENCE…and Spiderman.

Now that chemo and surgery are in the “done” pile, it’s time to move on to Phase 3 and plan for Phase 4 of this breast cancer “journey.” That’s so obnoxious, isn’t it? A fucking “journey.” A trip no one wants to take. It’s actually more like being an exile or refugee or something. I’ve been exiled from the land of health and forced to haul my cancery carcass up the Cliffs of Chemo and cross the Strait of Surgery in a leaky rowboat…

Eh, who am I kidding; I have health insurance and live in the Pacific Northwest which is where cancer goes to die. I haven’t done any of this on my own. I’ve been Sherpa’d up the slopes like an entitled heiress, and floated across the water Cleopatra-style.elizabeth-taylor-as-cleopatra-in-cleopatra

Phase 3

What happens in Phase 3 is radiation. For that, I need a radiation oncologist. I met mine last week and although he looks like a young Stephen King I’m going to stick to my theme and call him Dr. Spiderman (No, I won’t be hyphenating that, so get over it now).

Spider Man

Because radiation. Obvi.

We’re going to zap my breast and my lymph nodes with 33 days of high-energy x-rays. So I’ll show up at the hospital every weekday for about six weeks. Each beam of zap will last about 20 seconds and the entire procedure will take about 20 minutes. Spidey says since I have olive skin I may just tan and not burn the way many fair-skinned patients do. Next Tuesday I will go in for a “Radiation Simulation” which apparently includes one hour of “education” and an hour of CT scanning and such (not sure what), so that we zap the right bits. What Spidey and his team are going to do is use the map of my insides to program the big radiation machine (or linear particle accelerator) to zap from angles that don’t hit my heart or any other important junk.

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Then shortly after that will be my first date with this bad boy.

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Phase 4 (and the continuation of Phase 1)

Okay, now my phases are getting all confused. Let me try to untangle this. Chemotherapy is over. I started that shit on May 5 and finished my sixth and final round on August 20. But simultaneously with the chemo, I started “targeted therapy” which is the drugs that specifically target the HER2+ aspect of my flavor of cancer. Those drugs are Herceptin and Perjeta. While Perjeta has dropped off the menu, I still get an infusion of Herceptin every 3 weeks, and will continue to get them until May (giving me a full year). This is to make sure the cancer doesn’t recur. The good part of this is that it only takes 30 minutes and I get to see my homies. Seriously, Overlake Oncology has become my Cheers.

Norm

I walk in and the front desk crew says “Christa!” I think that makes me Norm. I don’t see Dr. Captain America every visit, but I did see him last week. He’s not giving me so much crap about my anemia and I even managed to weasel out of a blood test (in exchange for getting a flu shot). This was the first time I’d seen Cap since surgery and it was the day after the Super Friends conference to discuss my case. Cap told me that with pre-menopausal womean (I am considered pre-menopausal because I was still having periods before chemo stopped them) usually get Tomoxifen for five years as their hormone therapy. But…aromatase inhibitors are just a smidge more effective (like 3-4%) in preventing a cancer comeback. But it won’t work if your ovaries are still producing estrogen. (Remember, my cancer was VERY Estrogen-reactive). So, given my age (I’ll be 47 in December) and the stubborn (there was still cancer in my lymph node after all that chemo) and aggressive (the aforementioned HER2+) qualities of my cancer, they think it would be best to go the aromatase inhibitor route. So there are two ways to make that happen. 1. Wait 8 -10 months to see if chemopause ends and Aunt Flo returns or if she’s gone for good. 2. Suppress my ovaries with drugs.

So, that is the plan for Phase 4: Some time after radiation has finished I’ll start getting monthly injections of drugs to suppress my ovaries. And then I’ll take a daily pill that is the aromatase inhibitor. That will go on for five years. FIVE. Side effects can include osteoporosis and joint pain. So before beginning this course of treatment, Cap is ordering a bone density test I guess to make sure my bones are good to start with.

It’s kinda awesome to not be on any drugs at all right now. Well, I mean I guess the Herceptin is inside my body, doing its thing, but I only have to go every three weeks, and I don’t have any side-effects. I don’t have to go to the hospital at all this week, which is refreshing.

Loki helping with the dishes

Loki helping with the dishes

And I feel good! I volunteered to help at my first-grader’s Halloween Party on Friday, and my chemo kitten, Loki, (we found out he was born on the day of my last chemo!) is filling our house with naughty kitten antics and soft kitten snuggles. And MY HAIR IS GROWING!

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I know it doesn’t look like much, but the hair is fine and fuzzy and my head looks just a smidge darker. I’ve still got this creeping dread/anxiety inside, but I’m functioning much better. Still haven’t resumed work on my book, but I made some really good soup the other day.

Bad news, confusion, and a giant WTF


I had nearly given up on getting my pathology report yesterday. I’d started second-guessing my memory about what Dr. Superman had told me. (“He said Monday or Tuesday…maybe he meant NEXT week…”) I’d called my surgeon’s office in the morning to make my post-op follow-up appointment that morning and asked the receptionist about my report. She said it wasn’t in yet and she’d call them and find out what was going on. Then I heard nothing all day. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Supe called me around 5:30. He took a minute to apologize for the delay. He said something about how it was taking longer to process or whatever blah blah blah. Get to the good part, I thought. Go ahead and tell me “Congratulations, you are cancer-free.” bad-news-bears1

Only that’s not what he said. One of the lymph nodes he removed had cancer in it. Still. After SIX ROUNDS of shitty, miserable, fucktatious fuckwad chemo. The other node had fibrous shit in it which he says indicates it probably did have cancer, but the chemo got it.

Then the other thing he said was that in the junk he took out of my boob there was DCIS which is Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, also known as Stage 0 cancer. This stuff I guess can’t kill you unless it escapes your duct and becomes invasive (Turdy was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma). From what I understand it’s a sleeper cell. There is debate in the medical world over whether it is being overtreated currently. Right now protocol usually is to cut it out and maybe radiate it. Chemo doesn’t really work because it targets fast-growing cells. Sooooo this is another cancer that had never shown up before. Not on mammogram, not on ultrasound, nor MRI nor PET scan. It’s an October surprise.

So what now? What do I do now. Here’s were Dr. Superman gets infuriating. (Insert a bunch of words about how he’s nice and a skilled surgeon and I respect him, etc etc). Supe thinks in terms of stats. Overall stats. So when I was wondering whether to have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, he didn’t offer an opinion, just told me that after ten years there was no difference in survival rates. So it didn’t matter which I chose. And he told me the same thing yesterday. That the chance of recurrence of the cancer statistically, over the long term will be the same whether I just go ahead with the radiation I was going to have anyway or if I have more surgery. The difference will be how I feel about it.

“Well, if I just have the radiation as planned, how will we know it worked?”

“You’ll know in ten years when the cancer hasn’t come back.”

Okaaaaayyyyy. That…doesn’t really work for me.

So here’s what I know from this conversation:

  1. The chemo didn’t work completely.
  2. I am not “cancer-free”
  3. I can’t participate in the radiation research study I signed up for.

Here’s what I don’t know:

  1. What the fuck?!
  2. If there’s any more cancery shit in the lymph nodes that are still in my body.
  3. How much boob Supe took out.
  4. If there was anything left of Turdy in my boob.
  5. If the DCIS was in the scoop he took out, is there any more in my boob that they didn’t find before?
  6. What “more surgery” means. Bigger scoop? Mastectomy?
  7. Why no one will give me a fucking straight answer.

Reading back about HER2 + cancer I noticed something that I hadn’t seen the first time.

“According to The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), up to 70 percent of patients with HER2-positive breast cancer respond to treatment. However, total remission for the condition occurs in around 7 to 8 percent of patients.”

Maybe I don’t understand it correctly, but it appears that only 7 or 8 percent of HER2+ breast cancer goes into remission. Well, that can’t be true, can it? I mean, was there only ever a small chance that I would, at some point, be cancer-free? Do I not properly understand the term “remission?”

Why did I think I’d get to hear those “cancer free” words? Why was I so convinced I’d be popping champagne corks instead of shaking my head and wondering what the fuck has gone so wrong?

Dr Supe told me he’s on call this weekend and if I have questions to call his service and tell them it’s an emergency. Which is very kind. But I…don’t know that I can ever get a straight-up honest answer out of him. Unless it’s something that I can’t use. When he says it’s statistically identical for me to have more surgery or just the radiation…what does that mean for me as an individual? That I’m fucked either way? Or I’m okay either way? And just what ARE the statistics? He didn’t mention any numbers…and I could spend all day and all of next week looking for that stat and I won’t be able to find it.

I don’t know where I stand. I have an appointment with Buffy the Cancer Slayer on Monday morning and hopefully she will be straight with me. Also, I need to get my hands on that pathology report and see for myself just what is what.

I’m not a child. I’m not fragile or addle-brained. I don’t need to be protected. I’m not asking for nuclear launch codes; I just want to know the truth about what the fuck is in my body, how dangerous it is, and how to make myself as safe as possible.

Is that asking so much?

Breast cancer intermission: A Smoking Ruin

Well, here I am almost three whole weeks after my sixth and final round of chemo. That day was extraordinary. I felt accomplished, and loved, and, well, triumphant.

Since then? Not so much on the triumph. I don’t feel as though I’ve kicked cancer’s ass, or won the battle much less the war. The fact is, I don’t know if the chemo worked! I won’t know until Dr Superman does the surgery next week and the pathologist gets my cells under a microscope.

Yeah, I suppose you could say I “won” for getting through all those weeks of chemo. And don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely the toughest thing I’ve ever done (and I gave birth to three children). But seriously, what do we mean when we say “got through chemo”? We mean I didn’t die from it or stop doing it. Okay, I did do that? But all I actually did was show up to my appointments and not bite or scratch the nurses who hooked up my infusions.

The truth is, in this little intermission between treatment, I feel like cancer kicked my ass. Or chemo did. I don’t feel triumphant, I feel ravaged. Whipped. Decimated. Like this:

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I think I felt this most keenly on my recent vacation. Each year for the past five we’ve gone to the family beach cottage in Aptos, California. It’s on the coast about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It’s my happy place. And even though I tried to set mine and everyone else’s expectations that I wasn’t going to be 100% this year and that I may not participate in everything, I was still very disappointed in myself. At first the mega-doses of magnesium that Dr. Captain America prescribed seemed to really help. I was able to keep eating for a day or two longer after chemo than I had for the last couple of rounds. I was very tired though, and rather than playing board games the first night at the beach house I was asleep by 8 p.m. The next day Gunny took all three kids out shopping and stuff and I slept all day. All day. What a waste, right?

Dana’s mom and step-dad “MeMaw and PePaw” drove their RV from Texas and joined us for a couple days. First up we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium which we try to visit every other year. Allison is typically a pain in the ass for this, but this year I was the pain in the ass. I’d exhausted myself walking to the aquarium so Gunny got me a wheelchair. Yes, a WHEELCHAIR. This was pretty much the low point in this whole cancer carnival. I took my hat off because it was hot and also so that people would see that I have a reason for being in a wheelchair. Cancer logic. I needn’t have bothered: being in a wheelchair affords you the power of invisibility. Seriously, no one saw me. People would stand directly between me and the exhibits.

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The next day we went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Mecca for 1980’s vampires), and I was able to get around okay as long as I rested every once in a while. The kids went on rides and I looked forward to a boardwalk corndog. Unfortunately, by that time my appetite was gone. The next morning I was reading the final Harry Potter book and Ron wished he had a bacon sandwich. Gunny made me one and I ate the whole thing. Unfortunately, that was the last time I’d eat for a week. Wait, that’s not quite accurate: I was able to eat dill pickles. The combination of strong flavor and smooth texture was just un-barfy enough to allow me to eat one each day. Great, but half a dill pickle has four calories. Not really sustainable.

dill pickles

Anyway, I was a big fucking drag on the vacation and I know it’ll be better next year and this was just a temporary blip, but I felt sorry for myself and ashamed that I’d ruined it for everyone.

I think part of my problem is that it’s sunk in that although chemo was a long shitty road, this fucked-up journey is no where near over. I’ve got my first maintenance dose of Herceptin tomorrow, and a pre-op appointment with my surgeon. Then Monday an echocardiogram and Tuesday the lumpectomy. I know I should be focused on the fact that progress is being made and that it WILL be over one day. But part of me has realized it will never be over. I will never be “cured” I can only be in remission. I will never not worry that it’s going to come back and finish me. I will never get back these months. My hair is gone. I’ve gone into chemo-induced menopause and I don’t know if I’m coming back out. I’ve lost 20 pounds (okay, well that’s not so terrible). My face is fucked up. How so? My skin is just ravaged by chemo. I had pretty nice skin before. It runs in my family–the good Swiss skin–that stays moist and plump and makes strangers ask us for our ID long into our thirties and sometimes forties. I was actually carded once while buying a CD with a parental advisory sticker. I.e. they weren’t sure if I was 18 when I was 35. Anyway. Those days are over. I now have freckles and marks where I had none before. They aren’t kidding when they say chemo makes your skin react to sun differently. And I used lots of sunscreen. The texture is fucked up too. Whatever collagen or remnants of youthful springiness that my skin had is gone. When I smile there are thousands of wrinkles. My skin is pleated.  This will probably be the photo that will haunt me the rest of my life, but here goes. This is what chemo did to my face:

IMG_2946Here’s the good news. It looks like I get to hang on to my eyebrows and eyelashes. I think if I was going to lose them they’d be gone. And I’ve discovered a couple of unexpected benefits. I used to have patches of eczema on my shins and that is completely gone. I used to pick at and gnaw on my cuticles and I have stopped for some mysterious reason. All that’s cool, but not exactly a fair trade for my face, hair, and peace of mind.

So that’s the story. I’m just starting to be able to eat again but am still feeling pretty weak. I’m trying to jump back into some normal routines but it’s slower going than I’d like and I can only hope that people will continue to be patient with me. I think my overwhelming feeling right now is anger. That I had to go through this. That my family had to go through it. That my summer was stolen from me. That I’m sort of afraid to plan for a future. That sometimes I’m so tired and worn out I don’t even care if I have a future.

Chemo Round 6 – The Worst is Over!

IMG_2745Yesterday I had my sixth and final round of chemotherapy!! I’m so excited and happy and relieved. I still have a couple weeks of side-effects to deal with, but the beauty part is that when I finally start feeling better I will STAY better. I won’t come out of it just to begin again. I am convinced that this knowledge will hasten recovery.

Before I tell you the tale of this momentous day, though, I need to bring you up to speed on surgery. I met with Dr. Superman (Oh! And I’m going back and updating all these cancer blog entries with the new improved nicknames. Simply because the ones I used back in the early days before I got to know this amazing team seem disrespectful now.) Anyway, I’m going to have a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy on September 15. Here’s how it will go down:

  1. I will go to the breast imaging office (I hope to see Dr. Moviestar, the radiologist!) and have guide wires inserted in Turdy the breast tumor (or probably just the marker clip since we think Turdy has been demolished by the chemo) and that monster malignant lymphnode in my armpit that was twice Turdy’s size. Remember these fuckers?
    Darth Turdy

    Darth Turdy

    Son of Turdy

    Son of Turdy

    The wires will run from the clips to the outside of my body and be taped down. This will help Dr. Supe find the lil bastards (he’s amazing, but does not to my knowlege possess x-ray vision).

  2. Next, I will go to Nuclear Medicine (I’m assuming the same joint I had my MRI, PET scan, and MRI-guided biopsy on Left Boob, They will inject a radioactive tracer into my areola. Yeah, you read that right. I will NOT be asleep for this monstrous act. I’m trying not to think about it.
  3. I’ll go into surgery and hopefully be knocked the F out by the anesthesiologist. Then, Supe will run a Geiger counter wand over my armpit area and mark with a pen the places that react to the tracer. Those will be the lympnodes most likely to be cancery. He predicts 3 at most.
  4. Supe will make ONE incision, and take out the Turdy-clip in my right breast along with a small chunk of surrounding tissue. He’ll remove Turdy Jr. the lymphnode and any of his Geiger-clicky neighbors. He’ll sew me back up!
  5. All the tissue junk will be sent to Pathology for testing. To see if there is any trace of cancer that the chemo didn’t get. This may take a couple days. If there are any lingering microscopic cancer cells then Dr. Supe will need to do more surgery. I guess that’s when we’d talk mastectomy.

About three weeks after surgery I will start Radiation. I’m actually going to take part in a research study if I qualify (and to qualify I need to be cancer-free ie no lingering cancery shit). I’ll be randomly placed in one of two groups: I will either get radiation just on Right Breast, OR on Right Breast AND Armpit. I’m hoping this will assuage my guilt for opting out of the first research study I was offered (which would have me recieving hormone therapy at the same time as chemo. Ixnay on the extra side effects.) A couple things I found interesting about the details of the study was that regarding privacy, the authors of the study warn that in the future, researchers may develop some way to find out my identity just through my DNA and in that case they can’t protect my anonymity just by withholding my name. It was a little Minority Report. This was the other part that was weird but cool. They basically make it plain that this will benefit people who haven’t even been diagnosed yet.IMG_2735

Anyway, the side-effects of Round 5 were dreadful. I got so tired at one point in the middle of grocery shopping that I actually used the scooter. I took my hat off so that my fellow shoppers wouldn’t think I was a faker and that I really did deserve to ride instead of walk. Yes, I know I’m ridiculous. IMG_2634And I think I’m a shoe-in for the Turtle Club. I am most def turtley enough.

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When I could finally eat again I only wanted sushi. My husband completely indulged me. My daughter Callahan even took me for a late night run for grocery store sushi. Remember, I’m not driving, so my sushiquest requires an accomplice.IMG_2659

LAST CHEMO!!

At one point I felt like this day would never arrive. But on the other hand I’ve been planning for it like it’s the freakin’ senior prom. First, the outfit had to be significant. It had to be Wonder Woman. I have received a lot of WW gifts both before I was ever diagnosed but mostly afterwards. My friend Megan gave me a whole fab WW care package on the last day of Kindergarten that contained a book, sunglasses, a shitload of cute socks, and this fantabulous Wonder Woman snuggie. Don’t be too jealous.IMG_2666

Let me break down the provenance of my Final Chemo Ensemble for you:

  • IMG_2777The wig courtesy of Lisa Barbato.
  • The tiara is from Gunny.
  • The t-shirt I bought myself for the gym that I haven’t set foot in since before Christmas
  • The cuffs from my book editor Marti McKenna
  • The socks (with capes!) from my former mother-in-law Kathleen

I also put a lot of thought into gifts for the team. I got Captain America my oncologist a bottle of Irish Whiskey and a copy of my Lexy Cooper: Triple Threat collection. This is what I wrote inside:IMG_2743

For Harley, my favorite front-desker I got a fancy chocolate bar, and a Starbucks card. For three of my chemo nurses and for Cap’s PA Salena I got an orchid, fancy chocolate truffles and a Toberlone bar. I was up late the night before writing thank you notes which I wept as I wrote. I won’t replicate them here but the gist was to point out how each of them specifically helped me get through chemo. I thanked Cap for always listening and never rushing me. I summed up by thanking him for more years with my family. Then I brought in two bottles of champagne for the rest of the staff. Can I just say the gifts were a big hit? Wonder Woman or turtle, they kinda love me at Overlake Medical Oncology.

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Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

My best friend Amy came to sit with me and my baby brother Dan stopped in for an hour or so. Gunny stayed most of the time except for when he left for a bit to buy me a present. 🙂 There were lots of hugs from the staff and when I was finished with my last bag of medicine the nurses presented me with a “graduation gift” which is a bunch of magnets with encouraging words. Then I got to ring the bell and Michelle said “Congratulations on your last chemo!!!” and everyone applauded. I didn’t cry at the time, but I’m a little weepy writing this now. It was fucking GREAT.

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From Left to Right: Sherry, Wonder Woman, Judy, and Michelle

This isn’t the last I’ll see of this team. I’ll be in today for my Neulasta shot, and in ten days for a blood count (gotta make sure I’m okay for surgery) and then I’ll be getting maintenance infusions of Herceptin (the wonderdrug that keeps HER2+ cancers at bay) every three weeks. Don’t panic, though. The treatment only lasts 30 minutes and the only side effect is a drippy nose. GOODBYE NAUSEA!

One small wrinkle: I told Dr Cap about my elevated heart rate and that it got up to 180 one day when I was cleaning and I felt lightheaded and short of breath. (I also fudged a little because it was actually 187 according to my Apple Watch). He put in a referral for a cardiologist because we don’t want my heart throwing any kind of hissy fit during surgery. He thinks they’ll have me wear some sort of monitor for 24 hours just to track any arrhythmia. If my heart’s misbehaving then they may have me take beta blockers. But THEN, last night I got a note from Cap saying my magnesium is “even lower than your potassium” and he called in a prescription for magnesium supplements that I am to take daily ASAP. Apparently lack of magnesium can cause irregular heart beat plus a bunch of other shit (shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and nausea unrelieved by medication!) that I’ve been blaming on the chemo. SO, I’m going to be a good patient and take that shit like I’m supposed to.

Tomorrow we leave for a week at the beach house in California and I am full of happiness. Yes, I will most likely have some bad days while there, but I’ll be in the beach house bed instead of my boring old bed at home!

Chemotherapy 5 of 6 – The Darkness Before Dawn

high-five2Five rounds of chemo down, just one left. It’s a triumph, yes? But, wow….this is a bad one. Here’s the thing: actually getting the infusion of drugs isn’t bad at all. They puncture my flesh exactly once to access the mediport in my chest and then it’s all okay. They draw blood to make sure I’m healthy enough for chemo, and I go see Dr. Cap while we wait for results. For Round 5 I was all dolled up in this fabulous new wig that my dear friend (and cancer survivor) Lisa sent me from New Orleans. I was feeling good, I was feeling on top of the world. My daughter Callahan went with me and my baby brother came by for an hour or so. I’d even brought a butter and brie on a baguette sammy from Belle Pastry in Redmond. I also brought two dozen chocolate macarons for the staff.

I reluctantly told Dr. Cap that neither of the new meds (Prilosec for heartburn and Scopolomine patches for nausea) worked. “I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass,” I told him. He insists I’m not a pain in the ass, which if you know me, reveals his true superhero status. He asked if I’d tried acupuncture. He’d given me the card of a person who specializes in acupuncture for chemo patients during the last visit, but it had apparently flown out of my head as so many things have. So, I still have that left to try.

He also told me that he was adjusting my dosage–lowering it by 5%–to compensate for the weight I’ve lost. I lost weight (and probably it’s mostly muscle) because I’ve been unable to eat. It’s not some accomplishment of mine, so I can’t either take credit for it or be proud, but I won’t pretend I’m not slightly thrilled. I can see my ribs again. I have cheekbones. I cannot recommend chemo as a weight-loss method, but…it’s definitely a Cancer Perk.

Chemo round 5 selfieBesides the rad new wig, I wore a t-shirt and skirt and my cute Coach sandals that I spent too much money on the last time I was in NYC but have given me total return on investment in happiness and compliments. A woman accompanying her husband to treatment told me, “Look at you and your hair and your outfit. You’re gorgeous!” “Well, you’re my new favorite person,” I said. “I’d be here in sweatpants with no makeup if I wasn’t taking an official Round 5 selfie,” I joked. Also completely true.

Across, on the other side of the suite I saw a woman in for her very first round of chemo. She was alone and she was afraid. It was sinking in, the reality of what she was up against. I saw her cringing as they accessed her brand-new medi-port. That shit sucks big-time. I told her that this first time is the worst and that it gets way better. I told her that chemo goes fast and that I was on my fifth. She smiled weakly and told me I looked great. I wished I could go sit next to her and hold her hand, but I was plugged into my own business on the other side of the room. I don’t know what kind of cancer she has or what stage it is, but no one should have to go to their first treatment alone. If anyone tries to tell you it’s okay, they’ll be fine, don’t believe them. If they won’t accept a ride, show the fuck up and surprise them. Cancer, for all the good intentions and sweet gestures, love of friends and family and care of doctors and nurses is fucking lonely. Really lonely. And the only people who really get it are people who have been through it or are going through it. Anyway, her chemo was over before mine and before she left I wrote my name, phone number, email address and blog URL on a piece of paper with a note inviting her to call me or text me day or night if she needed someone to talk to. She hasn’t used it, and frankly I probably wouldn’t in her place, but I felt compelled to do it, as so many many women have reached out to me. I feel very strongly about paying forward the kindness that has been extended to me in the last few months. And that’s got me thinking some pretty big thinks about how I want to spend my life. But that’s another blog post.

So, after the first-timer had left the infusion suite and I settled in with my final bag of healing poison, I realized that I had given her the wrong URL. Of my own goddamn blog. I know exactly why, too. It’s CHEMO BRAIN.

031011_NF_FEAT_AbsentMinded_feat4This is something that doctors don’t really talk about. Probably because it’s hard to quantify. But people who have been through chemo will tell you: the struggle is real. At first it’s sort of funny. You know, in an absent minded professor kind of way. “Derp derp, where are my keys? Oh! They’re in my hand!” Cue laugh track. But then, after accumulating all these killer drugs in your system? It stops being funny at all. Sure, I wander into the kitchen and forget why I went there. I lose my phone several times a day (And pinging your phone from your Apple Watch is worth the price of the device in my opinion), but lots of people do that. Struggling to remember the correct word when I speak happens a few times a day. It’s very frustrating. The other day I got panicky because I couldn’t find my brand-new glasses that I’d just spent a fuckload of money on because I love my optometrist more than I love being in-network. I know I took them to Disneyland, and had a terrible thought that I’d left them on the table between the beds in the hotel room. I didn’t have my contacts in, which didn’t help my seeking endeavors, but I pawed through the backpack I’d taken to Disney and the little bag I’d used at the park. No glasses. I wander around the apartment asking my husband and daughters if they’ve seen my new, white, glasses case. Or failing that my old glasses to assist me in my search. Everyone says soothing things, “It’s okay, we’ll find them. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll look for you?” I’m almost in tears because I can’t see and I’ve lost my expensive, beautiful new glasses and I’m fucking stupid and useless. Gunny found them in my backpack. The one I’d just searched. “But I LOOKED there,” I told him, blinking back tears. “Sweetie, I know, but that’s why I looked again. You have chemo brain. It’s not your fault.”

And finally this.

IMG_2625On Tuesday I took my daughter to her summer day camp at the daycare she attended when she was younger. Then, I went to the bakery to order a pie for a Jon Stewart farewell party. As I came out of the bakery feeling all YEAH I’M PRODUCTIVE! GETTIN’ SHIT DONE! I see white paint on my car. And my heart just sank. Because I know I did it. But I don’t remember doing it. And I probably wasn’t aware of doing it at the time. It’s not car paint, so I obviously cut it too close pulling out of or into some parking place next to a wall or a post. Remember last round when I wondered if I was okay to drive? Apparently I am not. My situational awareness just isn’t what it needs to be. And so I’m not going to drive for a while. Which makes me feel like a fucking invalid.

wood sage sea saltAnyway. Round 5 is the worst yet. I had hopes that because the dose is a smidge lower maybe it would be better. And I had lunch with friends the day after chemo and the food still tasted good whereas the gross taste kicked in on Day Two last round. On Day Three I took my littlest to her swimming class and then took her to Kohl’s and then Target so she could pick out some new shoes and jammies (hellooooo summer growth spurt!). So I was feeling optimistic. But then Day Four hit really really hard. And hasn’t let up much. The nausea, I’d say, is ten times worse this round. And the extreme sensitivity to smells is 50 times worse. What I refer to as my Super Sniffer has driven me to spend entire days in my bedroom with the door closed, window open and fan running because someone cooked eggs in the kitchen. I’ve even tried putting perfume on my upper lip so I smell wood sage and sea salt instead of whatever makes me want to puke. It’s mostly food smells, but today I was repelled by the dishwasher detergent. It’s Day Eight. I should be a little bit better by now. I can’t even stomach chicken broth. I don’t feel hungry, but I imagine my body needs more than the 110 calorie pudding cup I can choke down occasionally. (Just tried it. Nope. Not gonna work today.)

Soooo, that’s all shitty.

Here are some not-shitty things. In fact, they are pretty awesome.

1. My dear friend Danny Pena (known online as “Godfree”) was recently inducted into the Podcasting Hall of Fame for his trailblazing work on Gamertag Radio. It’s a big damn deal. What tore me up though? He dedicated it to me in an emotional acceptance speech that made me cry a million tears. You can watch the video here, but grab a tissue! If you ever think you haven’t influenced people in your life, or that folks don’t really care about you, get cancer. Or you can just take my word for it: you matter and people love you. You don’t need to test it. My deepest thanks to Danny and congratulations on your badass award!!!

Godfree speech

2. This conversation with Allison, age 6:

She’s petting my bald head and giving me some sweet little kisses.

Allison: Hey! I think your hair is growing back! I see tiny baby hairs!

Me: You do?!

Allison: They’re gray.

Like I say, she keeps me grounded.

3. My friend Denise and her family donated to the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation in my name. She’s also given me other gifts (including matching mother-daughter Elsa hats!) because she’s incredibly sweet and generous but this was especially touching because it helps people. It makes progress. People will live longer and suffer less.

Allie in the Jeep

4. My husband’s Jeep. I spend a lot of time in my bed by myself feeling shitty. But sometimes–more often since we decided that I shouldn’t get behind the wheel right now–Gunny takes me for a ride in his new Jeep Rubicon with the top down and he puts E Street Radio on the satellite station. I know the Boss isn’t his favorite, but he does it for me. And with the summer sun blazing I yellsing all the Bruce songs. The real fan ones. The gritty stuff. I’m talking “Jungleland” and “Hard to Be A Saint in the City”…the real shit not radio jingles like “Dancing in the Dark” which Bruce himself now calls “disco.” And I’m as full-up with joy as I’ve ever been, belting out every single word, the wind snatching the lyrics from my wide open mouth and flinging them into the road behind us. I’m a Springsteen song. What else could you ever ask for?

 

 

10 Good Things About Having Breast Cancer

Well, I feel sort of like an asshole for my last couple of posts. I absolutely do want to give you the straight dope, but I don’t want to freak people out who are just starting treatment, or worse, be any part of someone forgoing chemo.

So, herewith, ten things that are GOOD about having breast cancer.

1. I discovered that I have so many more people that care about me than I thought. So, so many. Legions. I remember saying six months or so ago that if I threw a party, I’m not sure anyone would show up. Now I know that’s not so. And that is a precious feeling. That is eye-wateringly profound. Up there with “To my big brother George, the richest man in town.”

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2. This has been an unusually hot summer in the Pacific Northwest, and my bald head keeps me nice and cool. Ahhhhh.

3. I have been amazed at the kindness of strangers and their courage in just asking. From the checker at the grocery store who leaned forward and said, “I didn’t know you were ill,” to the waitress at my favorite restaurant who asked “Are you having some kind of treatment?” and the gymnastics mom who sidled up next to me and said, “It looks like you’re going through something.” It’s totally okay to ask. It’s obvious that I’m bald. And I really do appreciate the concern. It means a lot to me.

4. The generosity of friends and acquaintances. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s still amazing and I’m so very grateful. I’ve received so many thoughtful gifts, it’s just stunning. And some are from people I would never expect. Like friends of friends, or folks I’ve never met in meatspace. It’s crazy. Just yesterday I got this in the mail. I mean, GOSH! Thank you, Ms Nonymous!

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5. The Pink Palace of Breast Cancer. And yes, I am talking about the pink ribbons and the pink everything and the whole month of October. I too, got super annoyed with Susan G. Komen and the Planned Parenthood debacle. And I felt mild outrage about pink products being sold when only a tiny fraction of the profit went to breast cancer research. But you know what I’ve learned? That shit WORKED. The “awareness” and the research money and all that? It’s why I’m going to be just fine instead of dead before the age of 50. Breast cancer has probably the most sophisticated and targeted therapies of any cancer now. Women are living because of this. So sneer all you want at that grody hue of ribbon, but it got the job done.

6. Not having to shave! I’ve mentioned this one before too, but my gosh, a whole summer of not even having to give a thought to the state of my legs is super awesome. Shorts? Sundress? Sleeveless top? ALL DAY EVERY DAY!

7. The encouragement I’ve received about this blog. I love hearing praise from, well, anyone, honestly! But the comments from women who are going through the same thing right now just KILL me. In a good way. They’ve said that they don’t feel alone now and that this is exactly how they feel….damn. What more could a writer ask for?

8. Watching my kid turn this into a laugh. “Show them your bald head, Mommy!” “That’s not her real hair. She’s bald from the chemo! Hahaha!” Well, how can you feel like a tragic figure when your six year old is busting your chops in public?!

9. The good days are SO good. When I feel energetic, or hungry, or nothing hurts? That’s some good shit. And I have learned to savor every single one. Will it last when Turdy is left in the dust behind me? I hope so.

10. The sisterhood of survivors. I can’t even tally up the network of ladies who have offered their phone numbers to chat anytime. Who have been through it and have served up real talk. Who donate books to every new BC patient at my surgeon’s office. Who tell me stories about their sister or their mom and just get it. Women can be nasty to each other, certainly. Humans in general can and will be shitty at times. But man, if I have to be a member of a club, I couldn’t find one more supportive and life-affirming than the breast cancer sorority.

Why does getting better feel like dying?

First I’m going to tell you the good stuff. In the waning days of Round 3 (and I mean the very last couple of days) I was able to eat meals and enjoy food. The day before Round 4, I ate:

A butter and brie baguette, a raspberry Napoleon, and a Big Mac. It was fucking glorious. I regret nothing. Then, when I was at the hospital doing Round 4, my dear friend Amber surprised me with a visit! She sat with me and we chatted and laughed and the time fly by. It was SO awesome. I was super happy.

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That night, I was still feeling pretty good and so the family gathered for an impromptu dinner at our favorite Chinese place in Redmond (Golden Chopsticks) and I ate all the things. And they were delicious.

The next day (Day 2) I took Gunny to John Howie for lunch. I really didn’t eat anything, but I was having fun.

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In my pre-chemo appointment with Dr. Cap he told me that it wasn’t usual to feel so nauseous for so long and prescribed some new stuff: Prilosec (OTC) and Scopolamine patches for motion sickness. I was pretty stoked to have new ammo. Dr. Cap told me that we COULD lower my chemo dosage by 10%, but of course he recommended the highest dose possible. So I told him that I’d take the full-tilt boogie Round 4 and if I was totally miserable we could maybe talk about the 10% thing for Round 5.

New side effects: I have no hair in my nose and my vision is hella blurry.

So, then armed with my new meds I waited to feel not terrible. And I’m still waiting. The Prilosec either can’t keep up with my heartburn, or the Zantac works a little bit better. I feel as though there is a bubble of stomach acid resting behind my sternum all the time. I don’t know what percentage of my nausea/lack of appetite can be chalked up to this. Honestly, I don’t know if this is nausea or what anymore. I can’t remember what it feels like to be hungry or to just have a normal stomach.

The worst bit though, is the weakness. It’s pervasive. And it’s lasting a really really long time. On Monday (Day 5) I drove Allison to Pony Camp at a local park. By the time I’d walked her from the parking lot to the barn and back to my car, I was afraid I would pass out. I sat in my car and didn’t know if I was safe to drive home. I took this picture.

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I spent most of the day in bed, sleeping a lot but also staring into space and thinking morbid thoughts. What if this is the rest of my life? What if the cancer comes back and I’m stage 4 and the remainder of my years is constant chemo and feeling like shit? I think about quality of life and then smack myself because here I lie in my memory foam queen sized bed in the richest country on earth with the best health care reading fucking Harry Potter on my Kindle and bitching about how yucky I feel.

Fun Fact: Insurance doesn’t cover motion sickness patches. I paid $110 for five patches!

I feel guilty about that. I feel guilty about a lot of things. I don’t eat with the family. I’m not watching TV in the living room with them. The sink fills with dishes, the washer and dryer are idle, the cat box overflows. Did the six-year-old get a bath? Probably not. I’m contributing nothing. How tired my family must be of me and my goddamn uselessness.

Today is Day 7. I don’t feel any stronger. I went to Target after Pony Camp drop-off and nearly had to sit down in the aisle. My pulse as I walked (according to my Apple Watch) was 38. I trolled the food aisles for anything that might pique my appetite. I grabbed two kinds of soup. When I got home I tried the vegetable, but spit out the first and only bite. Next up, creamy potato broccoli. Made it three bites, but then…NOPE. So I’m back on chicken broth, which I’m sipping from a mug my sisters-in-law sent me from Florida. It says Cancer touched my boob, so I kicked its ass!

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I am so grateful for the science that is saving my life right now. I just wish it didn’t feel like it was killing me.

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