Imagine someone telling you that for 18 weeks, your body is going to pushed to the brink. Your body is going to be driven to the edge, but you’ll never fall over. And you’ll have absolutely no control over how it goes. How do you prepare? What do you do?
This is what I was faced with in the next stage of my cancer treatment. This stage was also what I feared the most. The surgeries didn’t bother me. It was the dreaded C-word—chemotherapy. 6 rounds of Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin every 3 weeks. Some voices equate chemo to being poisoned, whereas doctors say it’s medicine. I fall on the side of chemo is medicinal and necessary. After all, the purpose of all this treatment is to extend my life. I have too many years to live.
In planning my sessions, my husband had me sit down with a big printed calendar of the year. He had me first write down all the conferences I was going to speak at. Up to this point, I had only cancelled out on one conference in Nashville. (I was in the middle of all my surgeries and there was no predicting what would come next and how soon). His strategy was to plan my chemo around my conferences. “Cancer has to live with us, not the other way around.” He was my calm during my storm. Upon writing all my conferences down, we noticed that if I started on October 30, I would have my strength (or my best days) during each of my conferences. Game on!
October 30 was my first day of chemo. Part of my fear is I didn’t know what to expect in that chair for my first time. My husband and I came prepared with lunch, snacks, water, and our electronics. The amazing, caring nurses put in the needle into my port and the dripping began. After a few minutes, I cuddled up and took a nap (Benadryl kicks in). And as the nurses changed my different bags of medicine, I just kicked back in my sweats, watched Netflix and chilled. Nothing really hurt or caused pain during this process. It just took patience to sit there for hours while the drips coursed through my body. My husband would bring his laptop and work. Sometimes I’d have a chat with another patient sitting in the next lounge chair.
And this is what it was like for the next 5 cycles. Oh–with one exception. As you can see..the hair pretty much started coming out a 2 weeks after my first session. It’s a little shocking at first. I went from pulling out a small clump of hair the size of a mouse to pulling hair out the size of a guinea pig. It was the inevitable. But that’s ok. It was just hair. I wouldn’t let that deter me from staying positive. Instead I found these beanies online that made me look like I should work for Starbucks and discuss topics like climate change. And yes, I did get a wig. I didn’t wear it once. It looked so fake and it wasn’t me. A bald head (or hamster fuzz) is who I was (am?). Let’s be real!
Many people would ask me what it felt like. My best description was that the first few days I felt a sense of heaviness and was lethargic. Once the pre-meds/anti-nausea meds wore off (on day 4-5)…that’s where the adventure began. I only threw up 3 times in the full 18 weeks. Most of the time, you just felt extremely tired for the first 10 days. Your taste buds are out-of-whack. I had rashes for on the top of my hands. You have no control of your body. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t have the energy or the strength. I found it hard to focus on anything like reading or even watching a TV show. And after the first 10 days of each session, I regained my strength little by little. Each three week session had a similar pattern. By the 5th and 6th session, I noticed it was much more difficult to regain my strength because chemo does have a cumulative effect.
But rather than have self pity or hold a negative attitude, I tried to keep a smile on my face, keep a sense of humor, and hold myself high as I battled the beast called breast cancer. As I met other patients and heard their stories, I realized that there were far worse circumstances to be under. I remember once hearing such a story and turning to my husband with tears in my eyes saying, “We are okay.”
I discovered that 18 weeks of cancer quarantine were lonesome at moments. I was put on a medical leave from school. After the first treatment, I discovered that I wasn’t going to be able to give my students the best education and take care of my health at the same time. Staying home was actually the best decision I made. And when I had the strength I was careful and thoughtful as to who I made contact with if I left the house. The reason is that some people gave me the pity look. You know….the one when a person tilts their head and looks at you with sadness in their eyes. Yup–that didn’t help. Make me laugh, give me hope, empower me!!!! No pity—only empowerment.
I’m proud that I got through the roughest part of my journey. It was not easy. Daily phone calls from my parents, nursing from my husband and son and the countless texts, phone calls, cards and visits from friends helped tremendously. All these acts of kindness kept my spirits up. There was never a day that I wasn’t appreciative. There was never a moment that went by that didn’t I verbally express my deep gratitude for everyone’s care and concern. It was an extraordinary time.
Part 4 coming soon–Zapped
Until next time….