I’m on HuffPost Personal!

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Hi, friends! My essay, This Is What No One Tells You About Surviving Breast Cancer, is now live on HuffPost Personal. Check it out!

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The Sick Blanket

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This blanket has seen better days.

When I was a kid, we had a special blanket in our house that we referred to as the “sick blanket.” Well-worn to a buttery softness, its faded 1960s floral pattern seemed to instantly soothe any invalid wrapped within its calming embrace.

Since I was diagnosed, several people have given me blankets. And while these new blankets are cozy and lovely, when I feel really cruddy I find myself reaching for my own “sick blanket.” A gift from my mother when I went away to college, the faded blue afghan is frayed and a bit ratty, but it’s also incredibly comforting.

I’ve spent a lot of time with the “sick blanket” the past two weeks. I started Taxol on Sept. 28, and two days later I started feeling bad. I was running a fever, which made me feel totally run-down. I took some Tylenol and a nap and waited for it to pass.

Fast-forward two weeks. I’ve been fighting a fever this whole time, which came with a headache, chills and other fun symptoms. I went to the doctor several times and got poked and prodded more than once to do all sorts of tests to determine the source of the fever. After multiple rounds of clean lab work, my doctors were perplexed. They gave me an antibiotic to try, but weren’t sure it would actually do anything since they couldn’t find any sign of infection.

On Monday of this week, I called to let them know it was still going on, and my oncologist decided I should have a brain MRI. Cue the stomach drop. This is not a test you want to have ordered. I immediately lost it, my mind going to all kinds of dark places and scenarios.

Yesterday, I went in for my weekly consult and to get chemo. My lab results showed my white blood cell count was too low, so they wouldn’t give me chemo. And the PA whom I usually see told me that my oncologist now wants to do a PET scan if the MRI results come back clean. Cue more freak-out.

I straight-up asked her if they think I have more cancer, and she said my oncologist has concerns, but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything going on. I also asked her if this could possibly be a result of the Taxol. She said that was a possibility and that my oncologist’s partner had a patient who basically had a fever the entire time she was on Taxol. But, she said they wanted that to be the last box they check off, after they rule out everything else.

Rationally, I know it’s good to do these tests to be sure there’s not something else happening. If there is, we need to know so we can know exactly how to proceed. But I am scared. SO scared. The thought of more cancer showing up on one of these tests sends me into a tailspin. It makes me nauseous to think about it. I hope and pray this is just my body’s reaction to the Taxol, because that’s something I can handle. More cancer is not.

I’m feeling much better today (and have been progressively for the past few days). My fever and headache are mostly gone, and while I’m still wiped out from all of this, I am actually at work today and feeling halfway normal. I’m hoping this is all a good sign.

In the meantime, I wait. I’ll probably spend more time with the “sick blanket” this weekend, too. I’m not feeling as sick, but I still need the comfort.

Missed Opportunities

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Isn’t Cologne beautiful?

Today my husband and I were supposed to leave for Germany. He was accompanying me on a work trip to Cologne to cover the annual Spoga + Gafa outdoor furniture show. This would have been both our first times in Europe. Obviously, we were beyond excited about this trip.

Then cancer happened.

Instead of last-minute packing and heading to the airport, I’m on the couch, recovering from my third chemo treatment. My boss is sending me texts from Germany since she went in my place.

We also missed a concert last month, and I’ll miss another work trip to Chicago (I love that city) later this month. I know I can do all of these things next year, but still, it makes me so damn mad. Cancer is such a disruption. It robs you of the ability to do the things you want to do. And I know I’ve really got it lucky–there are so many people so much sicker than me, people who know they are going to be robbed of their life soon.

So, I feel kind of silly complaining about my first-world problems. But still, they’re my problems, and today they make me mad.

Coming Out of the Fog

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Aside from the jaw-dropping fatigue I’ve experienced with chemo, the hardest thing for me is the phenomenon known adorably as “chemo brain.”

I’d heard about this affliction before, but until I was in the throes of it myself, I had no idea how hard it would be to deal with.

Since I never really got physically ill from my first treatment, I thought I was in the clear as far as side effects go. Obviously a little brain fog and sleepiness are far superior to puking, but it just never really occurred to me how hard those “lesser” side effects would be.

I’m an editor by trade, so my job is to read and rework copy, and also to write stories for a magazine. This is work that you need a clear head to complete. Grammar and punctuation, not to mention syntax and overall organization, are sort of hard to figure out when you’re not firing on all cylinders.

Yes, this was an opportunity to take it easy and take some time off. My very kind boss and coworkers urged me to do just that. But that’s not how I operate. I need to work. It makes me feel normal. It makes me feel useful. And it feeds my passion–I love writing and editing. It’s not just a job for me; this is something I truly enjoy doing.

So, not being able to craft a clever turn of phrase, or whip some lackluster copy into something that sings really is hard for me. Looking at a Word document and feeling utterly overwhelmed because I don’t even know how to begin to approach it makes me feel like I’m out of control. My brain function is something I can’t harness and use as I want, like I’m so used to, and that drives me absolutely batty.

Thankfully, the past two days (now 5-6 days out from treatment) have been better. I know that I probably need an extra day to veg out after my next treatment. I know to be easier on myself. But it won’t be easier to do that, because even though I know self-care is the right thing at this point, it’s the hard thing, and not being wired to operate that way is a challenge I had no idea I’d have to face.