Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chemo Graduation Day

Tomorrow is the big day; chemo graduation day. I am less than 24 hours away from finishing chemo and I'm am a bundle of emotions. I am obviously excited because it is over. I will be really excited when my Neulasta shot is over too, that means no more needles in the stomach, yahoo!!!

I am nervous. For the past 6 months (it will be exactly 6 months on the 11th) all I've wanted is to spend less time in the hospital, not be under the constant care of doctors, to finish chemo, be free of monitoring and yet, it is that freedom that concerns me. At least for right now, if something isn't right, my continual blood test and constant monitoring will show it. I just wasn't expecting there to be this anxiety accompanying my last chemo treatment. I think I am starting to realize that cancer is a life long journey, no matter how long you've been cancer-free. I kind of feel like it's comparable to an alcoholic; regardless of if it's been 30 years since their last drink, they still consider themselves an alcoholic. I will just deal with the future as it comes, try not to over analyze EVERYTHING, and continue to accept support that everyone has so graciously given.

I also found out about Tamoxifen on Tuesday. About 5 weeks after my last treatment, I have to go back in and see my oncologist. I am given Tamoxifen for the next five years (one pill, daily). Cancer cells attract estrogen and Tamoxifen tricks cancer cells into thinking that Tamoxifen is actually estrogen. So the cancer cell can't develop and estrogen can't come in contact with the cancer cell either, because Tamoxifen is blocking any access. Although this is necessary, we won't be able to try to have children for at least five years, Tamoxifen can also negatively effect my baby maker, and side effects include further hot flashes, MORE WEIGHT GAIN, an increased chance of endometrial cancer (if my uterus lining builds up and doesn't shed its lining because of hormonal changes) and the potential of going through menopause at 27 years old. Mind you, there's no point in having a baby if I a) have cancer or b) am not healthy enough to take care of a baby.

Tomorrow also rounds off the 4th day in a row that I have been at the hospital (doctor's appointments, blood tests, and chemo). Today, I was at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) for a consultation for genetics testing. I am being tested for the breast cancer gene. I got approved for testing because I had breast cancer under the age of 35. If the test comes back (in 4 months) that I do have the brca1 (breast cancer 1) or brca2 (breast cancer 2) gene, I have an increased chance of having ovarian cancer or it showing up in my left breast. I might have the choice to have my left breast removed and eventually (hopefully after I have 2 very healthy children) have a hysterectomy. What I found out today was, if I do have brca1 or brca2, there is a 50% chance of passing it on to my children. Girls' odds are different than boys', but if my daughter does inherit the gene from me, she has an 85% percent chance of developing breast cancer. Now, I'm way ahead of myself here, but isn't that something to think about? What would I do if my daughter had breast cancer at 26 and I knew there was not only a possibility of it happening but a likelihood of her getting it? On the other hand, look at how far they have come in the last 26 years with diagnostic tools, prevention, and treatment plans so who's to say what they will be able to do in another 2 and a half decades.

As I walked through the hospital today (I went alone as Keith had to work and my mom won't be here until tonight [she's coming for my graduation]), I saw many sick children but one in particular stood out. There was a little girl no older than my niece (4 years old) who had a head covering on and I could see that she had lost her hair. I'm assuming that she is currently in chemo. She was just sitting waiting with her dad, she wasn't crying, she wasn't complaining, she was just waiting. I wanted to go over and hug her because it has been challenging for me to go through cancer and chemo at 26, how has she done it at 4 or 5 years old? You want to talk about inspiration, look at this little girl; I got nothing on her. I actually had to pull myself together before I went into my appointment because I was a little overwhelmed. I wasn't sad, I was inspired. I have found it so easy to get so caught up with cancer and its effects like the potential of not having babies, going through chemo, being declined LTD coverage, etc. etc. etc. and here she is dealing with similar issues at 4 years old; an age when you should be worried about your very first day of school, and Justin Bieber, and playing dress up, not cancer, and chemo, and hospitals.

Seeing her and the other children in the waiting room brought me back to taking the tour of my cancer centre a week before chemo started and I remember being surprised by how many patients were there getting treatment, how many people have cancer; well, I had the same reaction today only tenfold. When you think about having a baby, the last thing you think about is spending their first 4 years of their life in a hospital, probably the same way my mom didn't think her daughter would have cancer in her twenties.

Having cancer in my twenties has however opened some doors that may have otherwise been closed. On Wednesday morning, I shot a commercial for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The target audience is ages 14-24 and because I was 26 when I was diagnosed, we are hoping that I appeal to them more than someone who is their mothers' age. The commercial will be on the CBCF website ( and on youtube and also at movie theaters starting in Saskatchewan. I will post a link once the final product is finished. It was such a great experience; the videographer and the studio owner were incredibly friendly and welcoming (they both donated their time and space for the cause). And I love feeling like I am making a difference. I know that this is what I was meant to do in life. I also have something else in the works that I will blog about soon. Now all I need to do is get a job using my schooling in education and applying it to cancer awareness and prevention in young women.

Finally, I want to say, to all the men and women who are just about to start your chemo treatments, be strong. I know what it's like looking at the future and knowing that it's filled of disappointment, compromise, challenges, puking, diarrhea, losing your hair, hospitals, needles, weight gain/loss, a sense of loss of control, and the unknown, but keep it mind that it's the support of others, the inner strength that you find when you don't think you have anything left inside of you, the determination that you will find when you decide that cancer is not going to make you a victim but instead of fighter, and the undying need to make cancer history that will get you through. I cannot believe that after tomorrow I will have finished chemo. It is not something I wanted to go through but I can't believe I did it. I'm not going to lie to you, I'm kind of proud of myself. I think about the scared girl who started treatment in May and I am so much stronger now, I am a different person, and as far as I'm concerned, as of tomorrow, I am cancer-free.

For those of you who don't know, on the last day of your chemo, you get to ring a bell that represents the end of treatment and the whole cancer centre claps and cheers you on. That's why my mom is coming up, to witness her baby graduate. I have been lucky enough to congratulate others on their last days, and cheer while others finish their treatment and all I can say is, 'what a feeling'. This blog entry has probably been the most emotional to write and I can imagine how emotional tomorrow will be. It is quite a milestone, again, a milestone I wish I didn't have to experience but none the less, a milestone that I've accomplished.

It is the end of one journey and the start of another. Although I will continue to need support from those around me, thank you for all the support that I have been given so far. I wouldn't be here without it.

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