Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 12

It's the day before Thanksgiving as I receive my twelfth chemotherapy treatment, and I guess I should be gushing about how thankful I am for all the good things in my life. I do have many things to be thankful for, but right now, I'm tired and grumpy, and thinking about so many other things I'd rather be doing than sitting here yet again, accessed, bagged, and dripping.

Let's get the gratitude out of the way just so I don't feel like a selfish bitch who wants the world to feel sorry for her because she willingly hacked off her boobs and submitted to aggressive post-surgical chemotherapy. Remember, I still have six weeks of radiation to look forward to, and I'm sure there will be plenty to bitch about when that gets rolling.

I am grateful for the excellent care I've received from all the doctors and nurses I've encountered. I'm also grateful for the Affordable Care Act, without which, I never would have known that there was cancer in my body.

I am grateful for the people who now populate my life, both in person, and in the electronic void. I have never experienced the kind of support and empathy I've gotten from people whom I know only within the confines of my laptop. There are many theories floating around about how social media can make you feel loserish when you view too many carefully curated, "shiny, happy" posts and photos in your news feed. Personally, I have never felt more embraced and cared for than right now. It just goes to show that the people you are tied to genetically don't always turn out to be the individuals capable of offering the love and support you so desperately need when you go through something like this. It is at once fascinating and a little sad to come to terms with that. Ultimately, once you manage to put convention aside, you feel damn good knowing there are people out there who care, even if they're not with you physically.

Lastly, I am grateful for one person who has stood by me through all this, with love and humor, the likes of which I've never experienced before. I haven't been the modeliest of model patients, and this person has put up with all manner of crap I've dished out since this all started. I won't name names, but that person knows I'm talking about him/her. Things would have been exponentially more difficult had I not landed in this person's life when I did. 'Nuff said.

Tomorrow I'll be cooking a turkey breast and various other things to express the gratitude I feel. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that to "give thanks" has taken on an entirely new meaning. In years past, there was a facade of gratitude in my life. This year, that gratitude is genuine. And it has nothing to do with football, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or anything material. It's all about taking life one day at a time and trying to live it the best way I know how. I wish more people would feel that way, and I know it is something many of us must come to realize in our own time. It shouldn't take a life-changing event to adopt that mindset, but unfortunately, one is usually involved. Either way, some of us get there, and some of us never do.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 11

I'm coming into the home stretch with only five treatments left after today. I met with my oncologist before today's treatment, and he confirmed that I will be getting about a four week break after chemotherapy before beginning radiation. I'm actually kind of miffed by that, now that I've been thinking about it for an hour or so; I was hoping to be done with everything by the middle of February. It looks like I won't be starting radiation until the end of January, and that won't conclude until the middle of March.

I'm sure my body will be grateful for some much needed recuperation during the break between chemotherapy and radiation, since this journey began at the end of May with the panicked phone call I received from my family doctor six hours after my first mammogram. That will make it about ten months once all is said and done. I know there are cancer patients who have to endure much more than ten months of treatment, but I must confess that by March, I'll be ready to jump out of my skin.

One of the hardest parts about this is the all-encompassing effect it has on your life. It takes over like the "blob", or more realistically, all that horrific lake-effect snow the poor people in Buffalo, New York are enduring. In many ways I feel snow-bound; trapped in treatment and unable to do much else besides submit to it.

On a lighter note, I forgot to put on one of my cherished beanies before leaving the house today. Luckily, I only got about ten feet from the door before I realized I was sans headgear. The fact that my head was freezing was an indication that my baldness was visible. No one saw me, thankfully, but there is another example of chemo brain at work. The day I forget to put on underwear is the day I give up. Until then, I'm slogging on, resigned to the metaphorical snowstorm I am stuck in the middle of.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 10

Today is my tenth chemotherapy treatment. Six more left, and it can't be over with soon enough.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and did not need chemotherapy or radiation as part of her treatment. We talked about how much we've learned since our respective diagnoses, and how ignorant we were about breast cancer before it changed our lives. For example, we both thought breast cancer always meant you had a tumor, or tumors, in your breast(s). She had them, I didn't. Moreover, neither of us completely understood how serious lymph node involvement is, and how it affects the treatment scenario after surgery. Her cancer hadn't spread to her lymph nodes; mine did, which is one of the reasons why she didn't need chemo, and I'm sitting here, accessed, bagged, and dripping.

Over delicious hamburgers and a shared salad (I know; fresh veggies are a no-no while getting chemo), we discussed how knowledge factors into your health, and how acquiring knowledge and being an informed patient can make the journey, especially the cancer journey, a little bit easier. For one, it can assuage the fear you feel about what you're going through, and it can make your relationship with your doctors and healthcare professionals more congenial. In my opinion, there's nothing worse than being intimidated by a physician. I understand that not everyone has the wherewithal to be assertive when it comes to speaking up, but when it concerns your health, it is an absolute necessity. You must take an active role by researching your condition and asking questions.

My friend and I are both originally from the east coast of the United States, where it seems the landscape is chock-full of doctors and medical professionals who can be arrogant and dismissive toward their patients. Another favorite Sopranos episode of mine, "Second Opinion" from the third season, makes a powerful commentary on the doctor-patient relationship when Uncle Junior is diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his stomach, and is totally star-struck by his surgeon. His surgeon, in turn, is arrogant and dismissive, and treats Uncle Junior like an inconsequential cadaver, instead of a sentient human being with fears and concerns. Uncle Junior and his caregiver, Bobby Baccala, were not well-informed or well-treated by this doctor, and that point was driven home by the scene where Tony and Furio confronted the doctor on the golf course, threatened him, and demanded that he show Uncle Junior "the respect he deserves."

I don't have to remind you that threatening your doctor on the golf course is not advisable in the real world. And, there will always be the occasional personality clash between doctor and patient. Doctors are not gods, and not every patient is going to pull his or her weight by being an informed participant in the care being administered. The latter needs to change. That's why I used a tree of knowledge image at the top of this post, to drive home the point that knowledge is there for the taking by everyone.

Remember that your doctors and nurses have invested vast amounts of time and money to obtain extensive education and training in order to help people. True, some of them might be in it for selfish reasons, but the majority of these individuals genuinely care about their patients' well-being. Do your share by helping them help you. In the end, you'll be glad you did, and you'll be grateful for the knowledge you've acquired.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 9

I've chosen an image of Niagara Falls this week, because apparently I am dehydrated, which is causing some annoying side effects like nose bleeds and vertigo. It seems that with each chemo treatment, the chemicals build up in my body to wreak more havoc, giving me the bed spins and causing torrents of blood to pour out of my nose. In response to these side effects, I am sitting here with a large bag of saline dripping into my body, in addition to the usual cocktail of medicines and poison. That made me think of Niagara Falls, mainly because I have good memories of visits there, and the thundering sound of water is a reminder that I need to hydrate in order to alleviate the latest round of maladies currently plaguing me. 

When I was 35, I had a bout of kidney stones that I was told were caused by dehydration. At that point, it was the most serious ailment I'd ever experienced, save for when I was 14, when a fall from my bicycle left me with a broken wrist. I was lucky because I managed to drink those stones right out of my body, conveniently when I was stoned to the bejeezus bells on Vicodin. I must have drank two or three gallons of water over a period of several hours, and when the painkiller wore off, I no longer felt like I was about to give birth. Ironically, several female friends told me that the pain a woman experiences when she has kidney stones can be worse than labor. Since I've never had children, I can't compare the two experiences, but I will say that the pain was very intense.

The kidney stone experience stayed with me for a very long time, and I made a point of drinking at least two liters of water a day in order to avoid ever going through it again. Thankfully, I never have, but the experience scarred me for life; until now. 

Before I started chemotherapy, I was told various things by people who have been through it, as well as by medical professionals who administer to people like me who must endure this ordeal. It's always good to be informed before embarking on anything new, but the problem with chemo is that everyone reacts differently to it. I like to think that I'm having harder time than some, but an easier time than others. Overall, though, this is never a pleasant thing to have to go through no matter how you react to it. 

Speaking of reactions, my main activity through this ordeal has been food shopping. Under normal circumstances, a trip to the supermarket isn't my favorite activity, but I've come to relish it since I don't do much in the way of activities these days. Yesterday, as I filled my cart with necessities, I stopped cold in the soup aisle, and stood helpless as a wave of chemo brain washed over me. I stared mindlessly at boxes and cans of stock, thinking that I should put two boxes of chicken stock into my cart, but instead I walked away without the item I wanted and needed. This is a perfect example of what poison can do to your mind, since I generally use a lot of chicken stock this time of year. 

So, what prevented me from plucking a couple of cartons of chicken stock off a supermarket shelf? I have no idea. I shared this because I wanted to give you some idea of what life has been like for the past few months. In the larger scheme of things, who hasn't forgotten to grab an item or two from the supermarket on occasion? I certainly have, and I'm sure you have, too. But when your entire body is reacting to poisons coursing through it, the act of forgetting tends to annoy you more than it normally would. Yes, these poisons are for my own good, but that doesn't mean I'm enjoying what they're doing to me. 

I'm now a little more than an hour removed from my treatment. I had to regroup in order to finish this up. That, and I couldn't think of a suitable ending. Maybe I should go buy some chicken stock.