I know, I know.
I’m ridiculously behind. Like, REALLY behind. It’s been over a month and since my brain is fried from chemo-juice, I may or may not be able to recall a month’s worth of events (or the conversation I probably had with you yesterday). I’ll give it a shot.
It’s been a colossal month. We started treatment in Bend and fell in love with my oncologist, Dr. Kornfeld, who just so happens to be freaking amazing on every level. He’s personable, lovable, warm, funny and gives the best hugs ever. He gives me high 5′s when I gain weight and gives me permission to eat things everyone else tells me not to eat. He lets me obsess over my blood test results and accommodates all of my incessant questions and premature planning. I love him to pieces. The nurses here too. Seriously, amazing. Every single one of them, we have already fallen in love with. LOVE. Like, little, puffy, hand-drawn hearts appear magically and float all around them when they walk into the room.
So, a couple weeks ago… we decided to do the infamous BRCA test. (we call it Braw-ka). It’s genetic testing. Expensive, but totally worth the peace of mind. My main concern was for Bella, my niece … being the only other female under me on the Burgess side; I wanted to make sure SHE wouldn’t have this to face later, and if it was genetic, we could have her tested early. (Early detection, people!) Also, incase you didn’t know. Breast cancer is kind of like the horrible step-sister to ovarian cancer. I’m actually at high risk to get it. So is anyone I gave birth to. Like, my own boys. Yup, men get breast cancer too. We got lucky. It was negative. (In my heart, I already knew this.) This was not a genetic cancer… it was indeed, “environmental”. Here’s the quintessential piece of token cancer’y advise you’re obligated to get from me … if you think something is wrong, it probably is. Who cares if you sound like a neurotic hypochondriac. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is off. Listen to it. If you have a lump, get it checked. If you have a pain, ask about it. If they don’t listen to you, ask again. If you feel weird, ask for a blood test. If your lymph nodes are swollen, ANYwhere… have them checked.
**Note to men … those are NOT your lymph nodes. So, stop it.
Roughly two weeks after my first chemo, I knew my hair would start to be an issue. So… because I’m kind of a control freak, I took the reigns on that one. The first phase was just cutting off most of my hair to a short bob until we were ready to take’r down. Then we rallied the troops and had a head shaving night at Salon Envy. Ben came with his gear and we documented the night which ranged from giggles, to tears, to weeping and back to giggles again.(there is a video coming and we’ll put all the images up at that point.) I will say this… it was most definitely the most emotionally traumatic part so far. I didn’t think I would care about it until the moment JUST before we started, and I let out the most primal gasp and exhale of held in tears. Everyone just stopped and let me have it. I pulled myself together and that was that. Done.
The boys thought it was pretty cool.
A question I get a lot right now is… “What does chemo FEEL like, does it hurt?”
Chemo days are a trip. I have to gear UP for them. Now that I know what to expect, I don’t get anxious about it anymore, but I do dread them. Those days are LONG. They are boring. My tribe is there and I’m constantly worried about THEM being bored. Being tired. Being hungry. Being uncomfortable sitting in those ridiculous hospital chairs in that tiny little room they give us. My dad never brings anything with him. No books or magazines. No ipad. No computer. It bugs me.
But chemo itself is just sucky. It’s 10 hours of infusion. That means, dripping a long, slow drip of craptastic into my uncooperative veins after maybe 4 attempts at an IV. The chemo itself doesn’t hurt. But the process is uncomfortable. Once they start the stomach port infusion, I’m usually pretty full of fluid. I get REALLY uncomfortable around hour 7. By then I’m usually 5 bags of fluids in. I’m visibly swollen and feel ridiculously full. That night, is usually pretty uncomfortable and I’m typically pretty wired from the steroids they pump in that day. By the next day, I’m tinkling a lot. Like, lots. But the side effects don’t typically kick in until day 2 and they are really bad on day 3 and 4. Typically, I feel as though I can’t move without help. As the treatments have gone on and the cumulative effects of chemo have caught up with me, it seems like each infusion is a tad bit worse. I usually wake up feeling like I have the worst hang over ever. The side-effects usually kick in and every bone in my body usually aches. My skin feels flu-ish thin and paper-fragile. My muscles usually throb or burn a low, steady pain. It’s weird and kind of indescribable. Any strong smell is usually too much. It reminds me of pregnancy. I get intensely nauseas over brewed coffee or the smell of meat cooking. I usually feel weary tired but the kicker to the steroids is they make you unable to sleep. Nothing really helps either … not really. The steroids make it bearable, I’ve tried smoking pot and hate it, eating usually helps but the nausea makes that pretty hard, all in all … the days following chemo are pretty painful. I remember my dad came over one day, during the last double-dose we got, and I was on day 8 or 9 of being in bed straight, and I just started crying like a little girl. It just hurt THAT bad. Every so often, my mind literally just goes blank and I have trouble even finishing a thought or a conversation. The most recent side effect has been thumping in my ears… kind of like the sound of a distant helicopter… not continuous, but frequent enough to be annoying. The symptoms that come with each treatment only last for a few days – longer as treatment goes on – but for the first 6 or so treatments, those post-treatment symptoms would only last a week or so, depending on how much chemo I get. The last round was harsh, but the single dose I got after it was great! I just never know what to expect. Since my treatments are only a week apart there isn’t much time between to feel good. When they give me a week break, I actually get a good solid week of feeling good. Those days, are AWESOME. Like nothing hurts! I could think and actually REMEMBER conversations and I didn’t need a nap! Every treatment so far, I have a moment – after the side effects wean and I started to feel normal again where I just marvel at how good it felt to feel good. To feel N O R M A L.
On these days, I actually feel guilty. Guilty for leaving my bed, for putting on my new fancy wig, for having plans, for drinking a beer, for being out at a restaurant, for NOT being sick. Like, I have cancer… I’m not allowed this. Some people NEVER get to feel good.
I will and AM letting go of everything else, all of it… (you know… the ick and muck we all carry around like the initial swellings of grudges and anger and resentment and self-protection and heart guards and walls and…. and…) and clinging ON to the GOOD. There is SO MUCH GOOD.
I keep asking myself, have I lived enough IN the moment? In THIS moment?
To love life wildly enough to fight FOR it.
“Joy is always a function of gratitude — and gratitude is always a function of perspective. If we are going to change our lives, what we’re going to have to change is the way we see.”
Cancer is changing the way I see. Or maybe it’s God, USING cancer to change the way I see?
Difficult, but NOT impossible.