Saturday, September 29, 2007

Half Way and Holy Cow

I've had a rough few days.

All day Thursday my radiated side was itchy. Just annoyingly itchy, not enough for me to get up and do anything special about it.

Until around 7 that evening. Suddenly it changed from a regular old itch to an unbearably painful on fire sensation. The doctor had given me some sample creams (Xclair and Aquafor), so I put those on right away. But they don't work fast. So I spent about and hour holding on to it (that helped for some reason), crying and rocking. I was just about to give up and take a Percocet when it subsided down to a level that I could stand. Wow, that was bad.

Friday morning, I had to take a shower before treatment and wash the creams off because the area has to be clean and dry. I was a little worried about the pain coming back during that time. It turns out that it was uncomfortable, but not too bad. There was no doctor there to prescribe more Xclair for me, so they gave me a handful of samples. I clutched the dang things to my chest when I got them, I was that happy to know that I had enough to last me through the weekend.

So I came home after my Friday treatment which was my halfway point, three weeks down, three to go, and slathered up with all the creams, then took a thirty minute rest. After that I headed out to work. It was so hard! I just felt like I could not move. I slogged around the house, getting ready, and my husband wondered aloud if I was going to make it to work all right.

I did, but it was rough. I had to expend a lot of effort to stay focused on the road.

I did better at work than I thought I would. I did move around much more slowly than usual. And I was subdued, my sense of humor is leaving me again, but I made it through the whole day. I had to meet with my boss and tell her that I don't think I'm up for coming into the office anymore. I am going in on Monday since I had already committed to it and I have two meetings, but after that, I guess I'm going to have to work full time from home over the next few weeks. Part of me is glad because I really don't have the energy to spend on putting on makeup, driving and being around people, but I'm also sad about it because here I go again, living in my bedroom while I endure something awful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tired

Yep, I'm very tired today.

Tired.

Fussy.

Crankified.

The last few mornings during radiation, right in the middle as the machine pivots over me when it moves from left to right, I get this insane urge to leap off the table and run around shrieking and waving my arms.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Good News and Bad News

I've been talking with my oncologist, and he gave me the OK to get my portacath removed as soon as I am done with radiation. While I am not excited about the procedure part, I am very excited to get another milestone behind me! And so excited to get this thing out of my chest, it literally bugs me every day. It aches while I sleep, it itches frequently. I know why I got it installed and I'm very glad that I did, I have no regrets there, but I am even more glad that I don't need it any more. Yippeee, that is one BIG step away from being a patient. And one less daily reminder. I still have too many of those right now.

By November, I'll have no more appliance in my chest, and maybe a decent crop of short hair! That would be so wonderful! It would really help me to move on and start turning my focus away from treatments and diagnoses and towards getting back to being my usual uppity self. Oh, I can't wait!

Now for the bad news. I just heard that a young man at work lost his wife to cancer. I don't have details, I don't know what kind she had, or how long she was she fought it. I only know how much it makes my heart ache that he lost his wife. He is a great guy, and they are both so young. Far too young to face this.

Since I got my diagnosis, I've had to deal with so many emotions. That's not really one of my strong points either. I've been a firm believer in the "just stuff it all down and move on" school of emotional management. Having cancer and writing this blog is helping me to change that. Or er... um.... more accurately, forcing me to change that.

One of the wierdest is feeling unlucky and lucky at the same time. I'm unlucky because I had cancer and I am going through all the frights and treatments that that entails.

But I'm luckier than hell because my prognosis is so great. I'll be fine after all this. The cancer is all gone, and I get to return to raising my kids, working, and just enjoying it all. More and more people are surviving breast cancer. And while I do see tons of normal people every day who still get to live in blissful ignorance, I also see patients every day who are going through worse, and not doing as well. Or I hear about a death in the family of someone that I know.

And as I go through this strange experience, I get more and more respect for everyone around me. Respect for my family and friends who have gathered around me and faced this thing head on with me. Their support has been unwavering, loving and so very generous.

Respect for myself since I've turned out to be one tough cookie.

Respect for my fellow patients whom I am getting to know, and their bravery and beauty.

Respect for all of my doctors, nurses, and therapists who have been so patient, kind and understanding.

Respect for life which is both fragile and tenacious at the same time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hump Week

In Southern California, where I come from, all the radio stations call Wednesday "hump day" because it is the middle of the week and once you get past it, you are on the slide down toward the weekend.

So for me this is hump week. Once I'm done with week three, I've got just three more to go.

So what does the half way point feel like?

Well, not too bad.

I am very tired in the morning. That is partly due to the radiation, and partly due to the fact that for months now, hot flashes have been waking me up every night. Sometimes I can get back to sleep, but most of the time I can't. For instance, I've been up since three this morning. That means that by the time I need to get out of bed around 5:45 to start getting the kids ready for school, I am very tired. It does get better as the day goes on though. I get my second wind in the mid morning and usually feel pretty good for the rest of the day.

What am I doing to try to fix that? Well, I'm exercising, (dancing, walking, yoga and Pilates) basically so that I'll feel better over all and in hopes that it will tire me out enough that I can sleep through a whole night. I'm eating well. I see a healer once a month too. She uses a system called "Body Talk" among other things including Reiki. I think she has helped me a great deal. I am also going to try acupunture.

Acupunture is expensive. So the parsimonious part of me is rebelling. But, one of the things that I promised myself I would learn from getting cancer is that I need to spend some of my money on things that make me feel good and are good for my health. So, no flinching, I'm just going to try it. And if it works, then I'll keep up with it.

The other side effect is itching. Very embarrassing itching. Itching between the girls, and even worse - itchy nipple! There really is no good time for that to get itchy!

To help with that, I am using aloe vera gel and moisturizing lotions after I get my radiation treatment in the morning. And hydrocortisone cream directly on the itchy area if it gets out of control. Which it does.

I asked my radiologist what really causes the itching and she said that it is caused by cellular destruction. Basically, my skin cells are being destroyed faster than they can regenerate, so the skin becomes irritated. A little like getting a peel (which I have never done, but I've seen a few friends after they had one, and their faces looked a lot worse than my skin looks right now).

My radiologist was a little worried that I would get freaked out when she mentioned cellular destruction. I assured her that I completely understood the thought behind using radiation and that I know that the whole aim of it (yes, that was a pun there) is to destroy any cancer cells that may be left, and unfortunately, all the healthy cells are going to be affected too. I would not go through a treatment if I did not understand both the purpose of it and exactly how it works.

I have complete faith in my body's ability to bounce back and repair any damage that occurs, and I want to be sure that I did EVERYTHING I could to eradicate even the tiniest cancer cells that might have remained, so I'm just fine with radiation and how it works. At least until we find a better treatment anyway.

Super Freak

We went to a wedding on Saturday.

I had been looking forward to it for weeks. I love celebrations.

My husband went shopping with me for a new dress. It was a challenge because I wanted one that would cover my portacath and the stickers on my chest. That was fairly hard to do. In the end, I got a very nice dress that did not cover my portacath at all. But it was a little cool in the reception hall, so my chest was covered by a shawl for the whole evening anyway. I also got a kicking pair of shoes. The dress was a more formal version of a sundress in black with large white polka dots, so the shoes are high heeled, peep toed, flame red works of art. I love those things! And for warmth, I wore a beautiful green pashmina that my husband brought back from his trip to Italy last year. So far so good.

My bald head was the problem. None of my normal hats or caps looked good with the dress. I ended up with a small black straw hat that I bought a hundred years ago. The final effect was not half bad, but I was distressed about it as I kept on trying different hats and caps and not seeing anything that I liked.

So, we get there. There were about 400 guests at this wedding. I sat at a table full of friends from work. And I felt like a complete freak. As with most weddings, the crowd was mostly younger and in vigorous good health. I was the only one there who was obviously sick, and the only one with a hat of course.

I know it seems like a little thing, and I know other people don't care about it at all, I'm not upset because I feel the pressure of other people staring. I'm upset because I'm tired of being bald, tired of having a portacath, tired of feeling like I stand out for all the wrong reasons. The side effects of cancer treatments are so public!

I would have liked to enjoy the reception and forget all about the last few months for a while, but I couldn't do that. The whole process of dressing up and going out in public just reminded me of the whole thing instead of allowing me to escape from it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Acupuncture

I went to a cancer health fair at my local hospital this week.

They had free massage and acupressure sessions which were very nice, a ton of materials, and a couple of presentations.

I went to the acupuncture presentation. The lady said that UCLA did an acupuncture study for chemo patients and it was so successful that now all chemo patients there get acupuncture instead of all the support drugs. I wish I had known about that, and I intend to check that study out.

Listen to the price though, the hospital wants $180 for the initial session, and $120 for each session after that. For chemo, they recommend a session right before, a session right after, and sessions as needed in the weeks in between. And very few insurance companies will pay for this. So how is a cancer patient supposed to afford this? And the other treatments like massage and refloxology that can do so much to help you cope, feel better, and recover from both the disease and the rigorous treatments? I think insurance companies see this treatments as medically unnecessary. I don't agree at all. These are things that you can do to boost your general health and wellbeing, and to support yourself as you go through a major physical and mental crisis.

It really emphasized a major defect in our current health system. Insurance pays for drugs, but not for wellness. My prescriptions were pretty expensive, made me miserable, and had plenty of potential side effects that could lead to tons more claims as I visit the doctor and get even more prescriptions to help me cope. Why on earth would they not support a procedure like acupucture that doesn't have side effects? Our insurance companies have always been weak on covering anything for wellness and that is a shame. I don't want to bash the insurance industry too much because they really have paid for a lot of my treatments and procedures, I just think they need to look at a much bigger picture, and consider the toll of drug interactions and human suffering when they consider what they will and won't cover.

Itchy and Scratchy

Well, Friday was my last treatment for week two. So I'm one third of the way done with radiation. Four more weeks to go.

After my treatment, as I walked out, one of the guys who waits around at the same time as I do flagged me down to tell me that his lung cancer is shrinking so they pulled his chemo back from every day to two days a week. He was so excited, and so was I. What terrific news.

I went into work after that. Mornings are getting very hard. I wake up tired, get the kids to school, and pretty much get my second wind when I walk in for radiation which makes me instantly sleepy right afterwards. I feel like I spend most of the day wading through waist high water. It isn't debilitating though, I can keep going through it and by the afternoon, I'm usually feeling pretty good. I just have to keep pushing to get through the mornings which is difficult and aggravating.

So while I'm at work, I started to get this uncontrollable itch right between the girls. I tried to ignore it. I went into the cube of a good friend to talk, and since I've known her for years, I went ahead and scratched a bit, then my head got itchy too, so I scratched that. I told her I would completely understand if she kicked me out of her cube! How attractive, a bald girl with the mange! Ugh. I put some hydrocortisone cream on it when I got home. I'll ask my radiologist what else I can do when I see her on Monday. We gotta do something to keep that in check for sure. Geez.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Friend in Need

I took my youngest to his cub scout den meeting last night. I've known most of the parents and kids there for 4 or 5 years now.

One of the moms had breast cancer a while back. I remember that a letter went out to all the kids in her child's class saying that his mom had cancer and they could use any kind of help that folks could offer.

At that time, I was running my own consulting business, taking care of two young kids and my husband was travelling full time for work, but I could not ignore this family's call for help. So I offered to make a meal. I remember it was summer, and hot outside and I was hot and bothered as I made double dinner that night so I could feed her family and mine. I made BBQ chicken, two or three side veggies, cornbread and cookies for dessert if I remember right. I cooked up a ton. I wanted enough for my family and enough for her family to have more than one meal. I packed it all up and took it to her. I remember feeling happy that I could help and so sad that she and her family were facing such a tough thing.

She liked the meal so much, that she asked us to make her another one! I didn't know if I should feel flattered or harassed. My husband stepped in to help. He made a great meal, and dropped it off too.

Well, she made a point of talking with me as we were sitting around last night. It's been three whole years since then and she is doing great. In a way, it feels like so much longer ago than that. Your kids do a ton of growing in three years, and much has changed for me too. It was great to hear that she is doing well and she assured me that in time, I will be able to go through whole days where I don't even think about it. I think perhaps she has underestimated my ability to dwell! LOL

She also said that radiation was easy for her the whole time. So that was very encouraging!

I think she finds it hard to talk about, but she made the effort to try to help me. And I'm glad that she did.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Three for Three

I'm back from my morning radiation.

They took an x-ray again. Called out new numbers (they call out a number every morning, I always figured it was to confirm that I was in the right position), and got rid of one of my old marks and made a new one.

I'm glad they have all these tools to assess how the treament is going, and that they can change things and make adjustments whenever they need to. I am. But as a patient, it is confusing. What is different this week from last week? Why did it take three x-rays over three days to find out something that made them make a change? I don't understand a thing about how radiation plans and decisions are made (obviously), but this is more confusing than getting chemo.

During chemo, they check how you are feeling, and take various tests to see how your kidneys, liver and heart (among other things) are fairing. And of course, if they did not remove your lump, they check to see if it is shrinking, then they make any adjustments based on what they learn. That all makes sense.

But with radiation, they lay you on a table, move you around until they find "x marks the spot" and you just stay put while the machine moves around you. So what could change about that? What did the x-rays teach them that they didn't know last week? In that way, this kind of treatment is more mysterious than surgery and chemo were.

Not that I'm complaining! Radiation does not make me miserable, so it is my favorite of the treatments by far. I'm just puzzled because I don't understand this process, and so much of it is invisible to me.

Feeling Hot Hot Hot

You already know that I've been having hot flashes, and that they wake me up a few times every night. They really aren't that bad though. I do feel like I'm about to burst into flames, but only from the waist up, and I don't sweat all that much, mostly just on my scalp and it passes fairly quickly.

Well, last night I think I learned all about night sweats. I've heard of them. I woke up drenched from head to toe! Ick! And the whole bursting into flames thing was full body too. Since there is nothing I can really do about this, I'm reduced to hoping that it burns up a lot of calories so there is some compensation for feeling like a human torch. Wow, I hope that doesn't happen too often.

Other than that, I had a great day yesterday. I saw my radiation ladies. They took x-rays on Monday that they said were routine and helped them to verify positioning for my treatments. They took another one yesterday. They said they needed to use a grid for this one since their targeting is so fine that they literally work in millimeters. I am a big fan of them getting all the information that they need, but it reminded me that any changes in routine when you are a patient tend to cause anxiety. Even though they assured me that all was well, since they needed an extra x-ray, I could not help but worry a little bit that something was wrong.

I also saw my chiropractor for the first time in months. When I was getting chemotherapy, I felt brittle and vulnerable, and I just wasn't willing to add adjustments to that mix. But I feel much stronger and more normal now. I'm hoping that seeing her will help with my low back pain and headaches.

After that, I got a ton done for work, which felt very good. The time just flew, and it felt great to keep checking things off my list, and to make a contribution to the project that I was reviewing. When I was going through chemo, I felt like I was fading away and I clung to my work as lifeline and something that gave me motivation and purpose. Now that I'm feeling so much better, I don't cling to it anymore, and I'm not pushing myself as hard as I was, but it is still such an important part of my life and I am so glad that even through all this, I have still been able to keep up and make contributions to the teams that I work with and the projects that I work on.

In the evening, I grabbed my niece and a friend who is a fellow cancer patient picked us up to attend a meeting of the knitting group that I joined recently. This meeting was a knitting/potluck/line dancing extravaganza. One of the couples put some music on and gave lessons. We learned the electric slide, the Elvira, the Macarena and the hustle. Since I was among friends, I whipped my cap off, headed for the dance floor and proceeded to shake it like a total dork. It was terrific!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tiny Dancer

OK, that's a song reference, not so much a reference to my being height challenged. LOL

My life is changing for the better so fast. Saturday I did that yoga class (slowly and most unimpressively, but STILL, I did it), Sunday I walked around the Renaissance Fair from noon till about 5:30, yeah the pace was a stroll and I sat down a few times...but, still. And last night I went to our usual contra night AND I DANCED!!!!

I danced three dances in a row, one with my husband, one with my 16 year old son (who hates to dance, we just force him to anyway), and one with my dear dancing buddy, Wesley. Wesley is a wonderful person anyway, but my favorite thing about him as a dancer is his incredible energy and charm. He is so much fun! I often call him "Tigger" because I swear his knees are made with springs.

That means that I danced for 45 minutes straight. Then I sat down to rest. I was a sweaty, out of breath, jubilant mess! We went straight home after that. I used to be able to dance for three hours straight without a break, and this one night tells me that I will be right back there again soon.

We also had my favorite band, Brittany Bay, and my favorite caller, Darlene, so it was just a magical night all around. I was carefree too, the whole time I danced, I just had fun. When folks asked how I was, I just said "great! And how are you?" I didn't treat it like they wanted to know all the details of my treatments. In fact for that part of an hour, my whole ordeal was the farthest thing from my mind.

I had been feeling tired all day, but I keep hearing that exercise can help with that, and that with radiation, the level of tireness that you feel is not an indication that your are overdoing it, it is just part of the process.

So I decided, if I can push through being tired in order to work, do laundry, get the kids where they need to go, etc. then I can darn well push through to do something fun. And I'm glad that I did.

I realize that radiation could get tougher for me as the weeks go on, so I don't really expect to feel up to dancing every week, but this one bright spot, this chance to dance again for the first time since May is the perfect indication that I will get back to my old self soon, and that knowledge will carry me through the hard times if there are any.

And, I'm ridiculously proud of myself too. Throughout this whole thing, I have pushed myself to keep working and keep taking care of my family as best I could, but I have often left any kind of fun by the wayside, I just didn't have the energy left after doing everything else.

But, this time, I made fun a priority, and expended some of that precious energy just for myself!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fuzzy Wuzzy

On Saturday, I finally noticed a change in my hair - there is a lot more of it.

You can really feel the fine fuzz now when you run your hand over my head.

Of course, if you are more than six inches away from me, I still look totally bald, but this is the first big sign of progress, so heck, I think I'll be excited about it anyway.

I'm still hoping for a full head of hair by Christmas. That's my goal.

I saw my radiologist today for my weekly check up appointment. It was so nice because there is nothing really going on. I do have the pinchy feeling where my lymph nodes scar is, but otherwise, there is just nothing to report. So we had time to talk about yoga and dancing. What a luxury to be at a doctor's appointment and not have a laundry list of symptoms, fears, or procedures to talk about.

I did a couple of fun things over the weekend. I went to a yoga class (it was an "easy" yoga class and it totally kicked my butt - oh how the mighty have fallen!) on Saturday and I went to the Renaissance Festival yesterday. Along with swilling cider from my new mug, buying souvenirs for the kids, walking all day, and enjoying black bean soup and a greek salad, I had a tarot card reading just for fun. The fellow who did the reading said that I have to stop blaming myself for getting this disease, that it was not something that I did that caused it.

Hmmmm. He is right, I do blame myself. I figure that I ate or inhaled or did something wrong that caused a glitch in my immune system. I want to find out what the mistake was so I can learn from it and not repeat it. In a way, it is scarier to say that it was just one of those random things, while that takes me off the hook as far as being responsible for my own health goes, it also implies that there was nothing I could have done to prevent it in the first place, and there is nothing that I can do to avoid dealing with it again in the future. I would like to feel a lot more control than that!

In general, he is right about the blame thing though. Even if I did do something that caused this, I did it out of ignorance and it is not my fault that it led me here. We know so little about cancer that even though we know I had it, no one can tell me what caused it.

So, like everything else, I think I'll take the good part of the blame thing and allow it to motivate me to make positive changes for my health, but I'll discard the rest and stop feeling like I was responsible somehow, or like I should have known better.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Trail Blazer

I went in for radiation again today - one week down, five to go!!

And I went to work. In the afternoon, we had an all company meeting that was held in a local hotel ballroom.

As I looked out over the audience, I noticed that I'm the only one with visible signs of an illness - my incredibly attractive white "feather" hat that looks a bit like an Esther Williams style swim cap.

That caused me to reflect on my drive home that while I am waiting in the radiology waiting room, I am by far the youngest person there waiting for treatment. I also realized that every time I was in the chemo treatment "lounge", I was by far the youngest person getting treatment too.

In a way that made me happy. I'm glad not many people of my age seem to have this disease, very glad.

But of course, it also made me ask the perennial question - well then, how come I do?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I'm Thinking of Getting a Tattoo

Above my left breast.

I want it to look like a little commemorative plaque.

And it will say:

437 members of the medical community have been here.
Recently.

Hard times for a fashionista

I went into the office yesterday, and I was sleepy the whole time! Not horribly, so I wasn't uncomfortable, I was just drowsy.

The girls that I work with try to make it an event when I come in, so we went to a local upscale mall for lunch. We ate on the outdoor patio at Maggiano's (that was heaven, since it was a PERFECT day, no clouds, blue sky, temperature in the mid seventies with a light breeze - it was a celebration just to be outdoors enjoying wonderful food and a carefree chat with two terrific people), then a quick tour of our favorite places.

Sephora, C.O. Bigelow, and the makeup counters at Macy's used to be my favorite treats by far. I have been obsessed with makeup and skin care since I was little.

It wasn't so much fun this time though.

I don't know what caused me to have cancer, but like many people who go through this, I am looking into making healthy changes. There have been studies that say that many commercial lipsticks contain known carcinogens. And I always have lipstick or gloss on, so I'm wearing and eating that stuff all day long. So, I've switched to brands that don't have petroleum products in them (petrolatum, mineral oil) or long lists of ingredients. That means, that I'm down to using a handful of clear lip balms that I bought at the health food store recently. For me, that is a huge sacrifice! And I'm having trouble with it. I've thrown out some of my least favorite glosses and lipsticks, but I'm still holding on to some of my all time favorites, it is just too hard to let them go. I either need to find good healthy substitutes for my old ones, or I'm going to have to decide that the risk is minimal and get right back to using them.

Same thing with lotions. I am lotion obsessed too. And now I am trying to only use ones that have no petroleum products or parabens in them. Once again, that is close to impossible unless I buy them at the health food store! I had to pass up on some amazing hand and body lotions yesterday once I read their ingredients.

I know that these changes seem trivial, but cancer is getting to be epidemic in our society, which means that something that we are all doing without even thinking about it is affecting our health. It could be stress, diet, water, the environment, products that we use, or a combination of all of those things.

I did not have the typical cancer factors that you might have read about (I saw an article just the other day that described the typical cancer patient as over 50, seriously overweight, a smoker, and in terrible shape - I was quite offended). I was at a healthy weight, had a decent fitness plan, a ridiculoulsy sunny outlook, and a very healthy diet - so I was already doing all the "right" things. And yet here I am battling breast cancer like a lot of other healthy young women.

So I am trying to re-evaluate the things that I take for granted and do or use daily, and seek the healthiest choices.

I didn't realize it would be so hard though. This is taking a lot of the fun out of being a girl!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sleepy Girl

I had a long day yesterday.

I had my first radiation treatment, a consult with a surgeon for my oldest son who needs his wisdom teeth out, I needed to rush him to a meeting at the library for an anime club meeting after that, and I had some shopping to do with my youngest. I got it all done.

Today, I had to get up early since my high schooler had a before school club meeting which means he could not take the bus, I had to drive him in. Boy, was I sleepy! I did get to hear the ten minute rain storm that we had at 5:30 this morning though so that was great.

I got one boy to school, came home, got the other one ready (it is picture day for him today) then got back home in time to change my clothes and head in for day two of radiation.

I got there a few minutes early. I had my blanket and a magazine. There were a few old folks already waiting and a few more came in while I was there. They were all chatting about what they had (mostly prostate cancer), biscuits and gravy, home cooking and their disability benefits. They seemed like a nice crowd, but I just kept my nose in my National Geographic. Waiting in the treatment waiting room doesn't make me feel like talking. The blanket came in handy because it was cold in the waiting room. Treatment went fast, so I'm not sure that I really needed it for that, though it was on me, and it felt nice to have it there.

I guess I don't really want to lay alone in that room without my blankie! If I could have my arms down, I'd probably bring a teddy bear too.

My appointment was at 9:10 and I was home by 9:30. I was worn out and sleepy. So I took a nap! I was never able to do that after a chemo treatment, (I think the steroids revved me up to much), but today I was able to sleep for an hour. It messes up my work schedule, I will have to work late tonight to make up for my lazy ways, but it was nice to be able to take a nap when I needed one.

I should not be feeling the affects of the radiation this early so they tell me, so I guess I am just worn out from the days I spent anticipating my first treament, and from trying to keep the family on as regular a schedule as I can. It is very hard to keep up with them right now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Whew!!

I just got back from my first radiation treatment and it was a BREEZE!

First of all, the room was not as cold as the cat scan room was, it was chilly, yes, but not polar. I brought a small down lap throw with me that a friend gave me for Christmas last year. And I wore long pants, socks and tennies.

So, I got there and didn't have to wait more than a minute. The two ladies who will do my treatment every morning are wonderful. They were kind and comforting and they kept me informed every step of the way.

I started by undressing from the waist up. They didn't leave the room, and that was nice, you just whip your stuff off and head for the table. They wanted me to have my shirt close by because they cover part of me with it to keep me warm. They pulled my blanket up as high as they could, and kept my non-treatment side covered with my shirt as often as they could so I was as comfortable as I could possibly have been given the circumstances.

Then they spent some time moving the table around and scooching me a bit here and there until they felt they had everything lined up correctly. Then they took a couple of xrays to confirm that the positioning was right. Then they made some new marks with a sharpie, this time right on my breast instead of around my rib cage. The new marks are covered with stickers to protect them when I shower too, just like the old ones. The old ones have been there for two weeks now, and the stickers are still in good shape.

Then they explained that I would get a couple of treatments from the left side of my body, then three from the right, it would sound just like a regular x-ray and I could breathe normally, but I needed to stay as still as I could.

They also went over the side effects with me, saying that fatigue and reddening of my skin is what I can expect. When they see how the reddening goes, the doctor can write a prescription for various creams that will help me with that.

It only lasted for 20 minutes, not the 40 that I was expecting, and it was a little hard on my back, but no big deal really.

So for now, I am so relieved! None of the things that I was worried about were a problem!

I also got to see a few of my x-rays as I was walking out. I could see my spine, my rib cage, and the markers that my surgeon left around the area where the lump was removed. There are four of them and they look like four white stars or compass points. Pretty, actually.

So now I just have to get through six weeks of doing this every week day.

Ooooof

Well, today is the big 40 minute day for radiation, so of course that is all I can think about.

I want to think about pretty much anything else, but of course, I can't. It's looming out there and I know it.

My back has been hurting all weekend, so I'm worried about how laying on the table for so long will go. I'm bringing a blanket so my lower half won't freeze, but I'm not looking forward to having my upper half exposed in the cold for so long again. If only I could hot flash on demand!

And now, for some reason, I'm worried about how radiation will change my appearance. I did not worry about that during surgery, I needed to get that lump out and I was not concerned about any scars or whatever changes to my breast (good thing too, the poor thing swelled up like a zepplin there for a couple of days - YIKES). But now I know that that the very least, my skin will thicken and turn brown, and there is potential that the breast will actually change size. I also know that some people have problems with their skin peeling and then they get sores. I'm not so worried about the temporary things so much, but I'm really unhappy that there could be long term changes in how my breast appears.

I guess that is because I made it this far with minimal changes, so I don't see why this very last phase should permanently mark me too? Or maybe I have just hit my limit of what I think is acceptable. I accepted scars, I accepted baldness, thin eyebrows and lashes, but I've had enough and I just don't want anything else? Huh. I don't know if that is it or not.

It seems strange for me to be so fussy about this. Changes to my breast are not public like hair loss has been, so this should be easy for me. Maybe it is the permanence of it. My hair will grow back. My scars are pretty well concealed. But if my whole breast changes, then I will be reminded of my cancer treatment every time I see myself. OK, yeah, that bugs me.

But why does it bug me so much? I'll always have my portacath scar and that is really visible. Maybe I am mostly bugged because I am facing yet another unknown. I didn't know how my surgeries would go, or what I would look like when it was all done. I did not know what chemo was going to be like, or all the changes that it would make to my body and my appearance (thankfully, in that case, it's better to just get through it than to waste your energy trying to anticipate everything that could happen) and now once again, I don't know how something is going to affect me and how much of its affects will be permanent. Maybe I'm just sick of facing one procedure after another. Now that's an emotion I can understand.

It's funny what ends up upsetting you. I could not have predicted that this would, and yet I have taken other things in stride that I would have expected to find far more difficult.

Always great to know that you can't even figure your own self out!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Defining Yourself

A couple of interesting things happened yesterday.

First I went out to lunch with the two adorable woman that are in my department. You guessed it, we had Japanese again. One of the waiters whom we have seen often over the last couple of years, started to flirt with us. This was a first for him, so we all remarked about it as we drove away.

I was thinking to myself, he is really flirting with my two friends, no way is he thinking "I like that bald one who looks squeamish".

But really to him I think I just looked like one of the girls. So I had a bright hat on this time. He has seen me eat there for years, he probably doesn't even realize there is no hair under this hat.

Then I was talking to another friend of mine as I was driving home. We were talking about how weird it feels to me sometimes when people that I know only casually look all concerned and ask me how I am doing. As we were talking, I realized that my friends never make me feel weird. They knew me before this, they know me during this, they will know me after this, and in time they will probably forget all about it. So when I am talking with any of them I'm not defined by my disease and my fight against it, I'm the same person I always was.

I need to be careful to do that too. I think that because this treatment process has made so many changes to my appearance, and takes so much of my time, my energy and my focus, I've allowed it to define me. Well, that's just nuts! Thinking of yourself as a cancer patient totally sucks as a hobby! I gotta let that go and fast.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Encouraging Word

I went into work the last couple of days, and felt up for it. Thank heavens!

It was nice to see everyone, get a few projects tied up, and believe it or not, it was even nice to sit through some meetings! Strange, I know!

The meetings were nice for a couple of reasons. First, I have a great deal of respect and affection for many of the people that I work with, so it really is a pleasure to be in a room full of them, discussing how we are going to do things. While I enjoy writing and teaching a great deal, needs analysis and future planning have always been a lot of fun for me too. (Oh yes, I am possibly the geekiest person alive, and I know that.)

We have some ambitious projects on the horizon right now, and I am enjoying being part of the large team that will be responsible for making these projects a success. The other thing that was nice is that much of what we are talking about is so future oriented. For instance, we were discussing one project that has a rather ambitious completion date of July 2008. For a moment, I could day dream about how my life will be back to normal and I will be feeling great by then, and here we have a whole room of people worried about how rapidly that date is approaching! I loved that! It can't get here fast enough for me!

Also, I work with this wonderful woman who lives in Atlanta, so I don't get to see her often. I know I haven't seen her since my diagnosis. She has been in constant touch with me via e-mail, and she has been so very supportive. Well, I got to see her today. And I think we were both comforted by it. She was amazed to see me doing so well, and I think relieved, and I was immensely cheered by the stories she was telling me of her many friends who have been through the exact same thing I am going through and now they are all fine now. Full heads of hair, feeling 100% like their old selves, golfing and doing whatever they want to do.

That meant so much to me.

I am still so affected by all the treatments that I really am having trouble imagining that I will ever feel terrific again, and though I check the progress on my hair growth probably 15 times a day, I am getting discouraged with how slowly it is growing back in. Now I realize that is mostly my impatience, I don't think anyone sees daily changes in their hair growth, so why should I? But hearing how well her other friends are doing reminded me that all that good stuff is right around the corner for me too.

But that doesn't stop me from wanting to be able to see some sort of progress every day. Either I feel better and better, or my hair is longer, or just something to give me that feeling that I am well on my way to climbing out of this.

So, clearly I have a way to go on learning that patience thing I have been working on. I'm having trouble keeping the worries at bay too. I'm trying not to get too worked up about radiation. But I can tell that I'm anxious about it. I'm concerned about having a sore back. I'm concerned that I will get so tired that I won't be able to function. I'm concerned about what it will feel like and how well I will tolerate it.

So, uh, I'm not doing so well on the two lessons I'm trying to learn: to be more patient, and to worry less!

Dang!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Yuck

I got a call back from my oncologist's nurse. She is great. I'm pretty sure she called me on her lunch hour, so I sure hope she took some time out to get something to eat.

I described exactly how crummy I feel, like a recovery day from chemo, and that I have felt varying degress of lousy since Sunday.

I was relieved and horrified by her answer.

She said that what I'm feeling is normal. That I could have a mixture of good days and bad days for two months or more. And that it doesn't mean I over did it, or I'm having trouble with Tamoxifen. It is a normal part of recovering from chemotherapy.

I was relieved to hear this because that means that I don't need another shot, prescription, test, office visit or procedure.

I was horrified because I don't want to feel like this at all! I'm DONE with chemo, why isn't it done with me?

Ups and Downs

I had a good day on Saturday. I got a terrific massage that really helped my lower back. Earlier that day I tried to do a back stretch over my exercise ball and my lower back and kidney area had sharp pains that made me stop. So I did a very gentle, slow, deliberate Pilates workout, and then got the massage. It was a new massage therapist who used acupressure, stretching and massage when I told him that I was having trouble with my lower back. I'm going to ask for him again because my back has been much better since then. I'm going to check with my radiologist to find out if massage is OK during treatment. I also need to call them to see what we can do to make treatment easier on my back since I had such a hard time after the Cat Scan.

I also went to a pamper party that I friend held for me to celebrate the end of chemotherapy. We sat around in her kitchen and ate potluck, then we went out to her screened porch and did foot baths and pedicures. It took a lot of energy for me to do all that, but it was worth it.

When I do something like that, that takes a lot of energy, it almost feels like an out of body experience. Mentally I am having fun and doing something I want to do, but in the background, I'm aware that my legs are shaking, my back is starting to ache, and I can feel my reserves draining. That is not a feeling that I ever had before chemo. But now, it is just like the little battery icon on the toolbar of my laptop, I can feel the level getting lower as time goes by. I wish I could see that as helpful, as the way that my body is keeping me informed, but mostly, I just see it as annoying.

Sunday I woke up feeling like I was in my second week after a chemo treatment. My husband said I looked like my white blood cell count was down. I had hollows under my eyes, I was pale, and I just felt bad. I lollygagged in bed for most of the morning because I didn't want to get up, then after we got back from the grocery store in the evening, I started feeling really bad and ended up on the sofa under a comforter, with a warmie. I stayed there for a while before I decided to just give up and go to bed. It is hard to feel that miserable after more than a week of good days. Well, I suppose it is hard to feel that miserable anytime, really.

Monday, I was still very tired, but I insisted on staying out of bed. I did some watering in the garden, ran some errands, and spent a couple of hours catching up on paper work and bills. I was pretty emotional too. I cried because I'm so tired of being tired, and so sick of limiting what I do. I cried because my husband wrote a letter to his father (who lives far away and is deaf, so our communication with him is very limited) trying to explain what are lives are like right now, and I hated hearing how much my treatments have changed all our lives. I cried because I was upstairs, tied to the computer, paying bills, instead of using up what little energy I had on something fun.

This morning, I am still tired and headachey. I'm going to call my oncologist later just to make sure this is normal. The only real change over the last week has been that I started to take Tamoxifen. That drug can do a lot for me, so I hope it is not the reason why I feel this way.