Friday, August 19, 2011

'You Look Beautiful Bald'

I'm currently at chemo #5. As usual, I am looking forward to kicking ass. I am a little nervous about the bone pain but the nausea isn't supposed to be a concern with Taxotere and for treatment #4 (my first Taxotere treatment) nausea wasn't an issue.

Just to clarify, I will have had two different chemo cocktails; Cocktail #1 (treatment 1,2,3) was called FEC (Fluorouracil (5FU), epirubicin and cyclophosphamide) and Cocktail #2 (treatment 4,5.6) is called Taxotere. It's the cyclophosphamide that apparently is really hard on my baby maker. It's the IV bag that Keith and I had a little chat with prior to it being administered.

Taxotere has many side effects; I've personally experienced thrush, bone pain, extreme fatigue and water retention. While it's being administered, I'm required to wear frozen gel filled mittens and booties. Taxotere has the potential to crack your nails right up the center so the frozen mittens help slow the circulation and lowers the chance of your nails cracking. The mittens resemble oven mitts, and there are fewer booties than mittens for some reason so, I currently have oven mitts on my feet, as well. They come directly from the freezer; it's comparable to placing your hands and feet in a bowl of ice.

I get asked a lot how long chemo takes and how it's administered. I think I have thrown a few words (jargon even) around and I want to clarify it for those of you who are about to go through it. So, I have a PICC line which is like a permanent IV in my arm. The tube is 53 cmslong and it goes up my arm and into a main vein above my heart. This way, the nurse just hooks upto the tube instead of having to jab me with a needle for every blood test, treatment, bone scan, etc.

Anyway, so when I show up to chemo, I check in, and they have me wait in the waiting room while they contact the pharmacy. The pharmacy mixes the cocktail once they know I am there because the chemo drugs don't have a long shelf life so if for some reason I couldn't make it to my appointment, the drugs would be wasted. I usually get called in about 15mins after I get there and get hooked up to a saline solution for hydration. I also forgot to mention that up to 48 hours prior to each chemo, you need a blood test to ensure that your body can handle chemo. They test you to make sure all your 'levels' are where they should be.

So once I'm hooked up to the saline, the nurse usually asks me questions about side effects or how I've been feeling for the past few weeks (my bowels are always a topic of interest) while we wait for the pharmacy to deliver my cocktail IV bag. Once I'm hooked up, it's painless (I recently had a woman, who was starting chemo the next day, ask me if it hurts while it's going into your veins and I can assure you that it doesn't). I am hooked up for about 1.5-2 hours then get to go home. The whole process takes about 3 hours.

I feel like chemo is now a part of my life but three weeks from today is chemo graduation day. It's all over in 21 days. I'm a little nervous that I will be forgotten about by the medical profession and I heard that this is a legitimate fear. Right now, I have so many doctors monitoring me but in 3-5 weeks the number of doctor's appointments will start to decrease and my aches and pains won't be assessed on a weekly basis the way they are now. Anyway, once the Taxotere is out, the Tamoxifen is in. Tamoxifen is a prescription that apparently slows my estrogen (which is now my enemy) and I will be on it for the next five years. While on the Tamoxifen, the hot flashes apparently continue and my period continues to be affected.

Oh and my period; I saw my oncologist yesterday and told her that I got my period in the middle of chemo. Well, she told me that because I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), I probably wasn't ovulating, it was probably just a build up of uteran lining that was being shed. Needless to say, I was disappointed. On the other hand, they apparently don't want me to ovulate during chemo because that means my estrogen levels are much too high and again estrogen is my current enemy. So, although we were hoping that my baby maker had made some miraculous medical accomplishment, it was most likely my uterus getting rid of some excess 'stuff'.

Oh and I have to tell you this; I went to the local bulk food store in my home town and while I was getting some candy for my niece and nephew (alright, I got some for myself too) the cashier, roughly around 16, gave me a huge smile. I wondered if it was a friend's little sister because I didn't recognize her and I don't know that many people that age. Anyway, I smiled back and carefully picked out Mario Bros. candy for my nephew and butterfly gummies for my niece (an irrelevant piece of information). I got up to the counter, knew that I definitely didn't know her and the conversation went like this...

Cashier: Hi.
Me: Hi.
Cashier: Can I just tell you, that you look beautiful bald?
Me: *awkward giggle*
Cashier: No, honestly, you look beautiful bald.
Me: Oh, well thank you. I'm just glad that there's no huge dent back there.
Cashier: Are you a cancer patient?
(Now at this point I start wondering why she's asking because so many people shy away from asking questions because they think if they don't acknowledge it, then I somehow forget that I am bald, eyebrowless, and have cancer at all)
Me: Yes.
Cashier: Are you currently in treatment?
(She knows way too much about this...)
Me: Yes, I have completed 4 treatments and have 2 left.
Cashier: So is my mom.
Me: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.
Cashier: Ya, she has breast cancer.
Me: Me, too.
Cashier: (She stops counting my change and hesitates. I think she was expecting Leukemia, or a brain tumour, or something other than breast cancer at 26.) Well, you do, you look beautiful bald.
Me: (I wanted to say, 'can you fit in my purse, because you are so damn cute and I really could use these ego boosts every day but instead said) Well, tell your mom 'Good Luck'.
Cashier: I will, and good luck to you.

It was the highlight of my day. And good for that young girl for not shying away from cancer and instead addressing it and making me feel awesome that day. I feel as though a lot of people would tell me my hair looked fine, if I asked, just to avoid acknowledging that I am bald and that I have cancer, so kudos to that girl for asking me.

I have excused many people who have said some pretty thoughtless things to me like "Oh, my aunt had breast cancer and she died last year." Why would you tell me that? OR "Oh, you're going in for your 4th treatment next week? My friend almost died from her 4th treatment because she was allergic?" How is that at all helpful or constructive? Anyway, it's people like the bulk food store cashier that I am going to remember and that make me want to give back after treatment is all said and done. Wouldn't it be cool if I could talk to girls in college or even high school and share my story and spread the word about early detection and breast cancer awareness? Wouldn't it be so meaningful and purposeful if my full-time job was to be able to help other women catch cancer at the early stages and show them living proof that just because you're 26 doesn't mean you're protected?

I've been told and also read that it is very common for people who have had cancer to want to give back and I am certainly one of those people. I have a master's degree in education and instead of teaching in the classroom in the traditional sense of the word, I would love to teach via motivational speaking or writing a book, etc, etc, etc. Many people go through this alone and I would love to be there for someone who doesn't necessarily have the support that I have had.

You know how you always hear about people winning the lottery and then individuals in the winners' pasts come out of the woodwork claiming that they are friends, or long lost family members, or that they owe them money? Well, I have had the exact same thing happen to me in reverse. I am so overwhelmed by people's generosity that I just can't say enough about it. I have had people drop off cards at my mom's house that I haven't seen or heard from in over 15 years (for the record, that's over half my life) and there is money inside of it. I've also gotten cards with donations inside from people who couldn't make it to my Benefit. Isn't that incredible? It's those actions that make me want to give back. How can I make someone's life easier who was just told that she has cancer? I feel like I have a bit of an insider's scoop, as someone who has experienced being diagnosed, had a body part removed and gone through 6 cancer treatments and thanks to the support, had a smile on my face through most of it.


I know it's not Music Monday but a friend of mine posted this song on my facebook and any of us with a supportive spouse can certainly relate.

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