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Archive for the tag “oncology”

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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Chemotherapy 2 of 6 – Getting the Hang of It?

IMG_1934My oncology office is becoming like Cheers for me. I walk in and everyone’s happy to see me. My 19-year-old daughter Callahan accompanied me for my second round of chemo and I’m pleased to report that my master plan to encourage her interest in health care is totally working. She’s registering at Bellevue College in the fall and is interested in a few of their excellent programs. Right now the front runner is Nuclear Medicine Technology. I’m so proud of her and know she will rock that.

I saw Dr. Cap first and we talked about how I was feeling. I told him my weirdness about the nausea getting worse the second week so he decided to add a drug called Emend to my IV, which is supposed to be especially helpful with “delayed nausea.” Side effect =constipation. So maybe it will balance out the poop firehose situation (which actually abated a couple of days ago). He’s not happy with my continued anemia, but is understanding that iron pills don’t do my barfy tummy any favors. He asked me to try to take one every other day and I agreed to ponder that.

I told him I can’t feel the tumor at all and invited him to feel for himself. He said he’d be fine just listening to my heart and lungs. And there you have it folks: for the first time in my life a boy didn’t want to touch my boob. *sad trombone*

Callahan and I settled into the last remaining chemo chair in the infusion suite. It was hoppin’ in there! The downside of the busyness and the extra meds was that we were there for a little over 5 hours which was much longer than expected. Callahan made a Starbucks run and got herself a coffee and a chocolate croissant for me.

Luckily, we got my next chemo scheduled before the Benadryl this time. But just as I started to feel loopy and sleepy my Dad stopped by so I perked up and didn’t nap.

Baldy, Dad, Callahan

Baldy, Dad, Callahan

My next dose is due the same week as Allison’s last day of school picnic and her birthday and party and Father’s Day. So figuring that I’ll feel halfway human for 2-3 days after chemo, I asked Dr. Cap if it was okay to bump it out a couple days and he agreed that wouldn’t mess anything up. So, the next round will be June 18 and hopefully I will be alert and upright and not spewing from any orifice for the big astronaut party on the 20th. Fingers crossed!

So, here’s another thing. I’m totally bald! Once it started falling out and I had Allison cut it shorter, shit went downhill fast.

11107174_10152889424527616_4227576448692282945_nSo, I decided to make the head shaving a family event, piggybacking on our weekly Game of Thrones gathering on Sunday when all the kids are home.

First, the girls each took a side and cut my hair.

11267997_10152891928387616_3802612572269950073_oThen Gunny got the clippers and he, Allison, and Scott all took a turn. And then I looked like this. Grumpy, but kinda badass?

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Then Gunny got his safety razer and shaving cream and made me smooth as a baby’s bum. It’s chilly!

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But I have some Buffs I bought at REI (serendipitously during the Anniversary Sale!) and I now have three fun cheap costume wigs in wild colors.

Three Wigs

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