Toddlers Don’t Care

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Last night was a rough one at my house. And for once, it really didn’t have much to do with cancer.

My son is almost two years old. And, yes, he is in the throes of the “terrible twos.”

Toddler parents–you know what I’m talking about. The screaming. The refusal to sleep. The teething. The utter nonsense.

Last night was a perfect storm. He’s cutting about three teeth right now (two of them molars), he’d napped about 20 minutes total and it was waaaay past bedtime. Yet, instead of going to sleep like everyone else in the house longed to, he had a full-on meltdown the likes of which I haven’t seen in ages. So. Much. Screaming.

In the olden days, I’d soothe him with hugs, a calm voice and most likely, the boob. Of course, those days are long gone. The hugs and calming voice did nothing. It finally took strapping him to my body in a baby carrier (thanks, LILLEbaby!) and walking him around outside in the dark, a technique I hadn’t been forced to use in many months.

These nights are hard. And like everything else, they’re especially hard when I’m tired and a little loopy from chemo. I pray tonight is better. I pray he goes down without a fight (and sometime before 10 p.m.). BecauseĀ even though I’m tired and a little out of it, toddlers don’t care.

 

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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.

Treatment Update

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A lot of people ask how I’m doing (which is so nice and makes me feel so loved), so I thought I’d do an update for anyone who follows this blog.

I’m just coming off my gap week after my second chemo treatment. That means today, I feel pretty dang good. I have my third treatment on Thursday. It’s the next-to-last in this round of chemo. Once I finish this portion (which is multiple drugs and the most intense part), I’ll start 12 weeks of weekly treatments with just one drug. This part is supposed to be easier.

After each treatment, it takes me about a week to feel halfway normal again. Usually, each day is better than the last. My symptoms have been fairly mild, thus far–a feeling of queasiness, but no vomiting (thanks, anti-nausea meds!), fatigue and the brain fog. And, of course, my hair has fallen out. I still have some fuzz on my head, but that’s steadily coming out, too. I’ll likely be totally bald by this time next week. But, I have a really nice wig, some hats and scarves and I’m also planning to buy some fun wigs once all the Halloween stuff comes out (my timing on all of this is pretty good, wig-wise).

Another side effect is that my immune system takes a major hit about a week after each treatment. I go in for lab work each week after chemo, and my white blood cell counts have been very low each time (this is totally normal). My doctor gives me antibiotics as a preventative measure, and I’m washing my hands so much they’re starting to get a little raw. But, better red skin than a nasty bug I can’t shake.

Mentally, I’m doing pretty well. I have my bad days/moments, for sure, but I’m hanging in there. My son is pretty oblivious to what’s going on, other than rubbing my head a lot and saying, “Mama hair gone.” But I think he thinks this is pretty cool rather than being disturbed by it. Thank goodness for small blessings.

I have an appointment next week with the plastic surgeon to talk about reconstruction after my bilateral mastectomy. All of that will likely take place after the first of the year.

I also plotted out on my calendar the remainder of my chemo schedule. I will be done just before Christmas. I really can’t think of much better timing or a more perfect gift. šŸ™‚

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staring Into the Eye of the Beast

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Several weeks ago, I had what I would say is one of the strangest experiences of my cancer journey, thus far.

It happened after my second needle biopsy, to test tissue in another spot near my initial tumor. That biopsy turned out to be positive for cancer, so it confirmed this second spot was another cancer.

But, that wasn’t the strange part. That came after the doctor taped me up and I wrapped my gown back around my chest. The doctor left the room and the nurse who was collecting everything used in the biopsy turned to me and said, “do you want to see the tissue sample?”

During my first biopsy, I was not given this option. And frankly, I was so terrified, I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway. But this time was different. I already knew I had cancer, and my surgeon had warned me that this was likely a satellite tumor, which was pretty common. I had little notion that this was going to come back anything but positive.

So, after a short pause, I told her, “yes.”

She showed me the tiny vial that contained some fluid and little pieces of tissue that looked sort of like bits of spaghetti noodles. This was my cancer?! It looked so, well, harmless.

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting–I guess some black, grungy looking thing or some kind of weird, gelatinous, Ghostbusters-esque blob. Something more ominous, for sure.

Since I’ve started chemo, I’ve thought a lot about that tissue, or rather, its brethren still inside my body. Not long after my first treatment, I actually tried to feel my main tumor. I’d avoided it like the plague once I learned it was cancer, but I thought it might be worth checking to see what was going on. Instead of being a hard, very prominent lump, it was smaller and harder to find. Could it already be shrinking?!

The answer was yes, according to my wonderful oncologist. He also told me that tenderness I’ve felt is likely from the cancer cells dying and other cells coming in to do “clean up.” (I like the idea of my other cells jumping in to help tidy up this mess–thanks, guys!)

I know that because of my prognosis, this shrinking isn’t as big a deal since I’ll need a bilateral mastectomy anyway, but knowing that these drugs that make me feel like garbage are in there waging battle, and freaking winning, makes me feel so good. And if this shit has moved anywhere else in my body, I hope it’s getting the same beat-down going on in my breast. Little victories like this are what get me through the day, and even when the enemy doesn’t actually look all that scary, knowing he’s getting destroyed still feels pretty damn good.

 

Parellel Lives

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One of my nurses during my first chemo session was pregnant. She was one of those lucky women who stayed slim with little more than an adorably round belly to let others know she was expecting.

Judging from the size of said belly, I surmised she was likely due around the same time I had my son. Sure enough, she told me her due date was Oct. 2, the day before my son’s birthday (his due date was Sept. 30, but like his mama, he’s not exactly on the punctual side).

After making this realization, we laughed and swapped some war stories about surviving the third trimester in North Carolina during the hottest part of the year. As she and I talked, I had the odd feeling once again of being on two opposite, but sort of parallel journeys, just two years apart.

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Oh, sushi. I already miss you so.

The first time I felt this way was during chemo class (yep, that’s a thing) when the nurse gave us the rundown of all the foods we should avoid while in treatment. The list was almost the exact one my OB had given me two years prior when I was pregnant with my son–sushi, undercooked meat, unwashed fruit and veggies, etc. In both cases, the risk of infection can cause major problems, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

There are other little things, too, like counting weeks of pregnancy vs. weeks of treatment, feeling intense cravings for fruit and vegetables and, of course, being hyper-aware of my changing breasts.

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Baby’s first beach trip

I loved being pregnant. And even though I was as swollen as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man by the end of it, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Feeling a living being grow inside you is almost indescribable, it’s that amazing. I’ll never forget the feeling of kicks turning into rolls and, my favorite, when he would get hiccups. It was all so wonderful (well, except those bladder kicks–I could have done without those).

So, to think that just two short years ago I was over the moon with excitement over becoming a mom, experiencing this miraculous process of creating another human being inside me, is kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around. Because over the past few months my body has been creating something else inside, something I neither wanted nor suspected was there. To live inside a body capable of both these things is scary and confusing. How did this happen? How did I go from one extreme to the other so quickly?

That’s the thing about both pregnancy and cancer–they both remind you that you have very little control over your own body. Sure, there are plenty of things about ourselves that we can manage, but at the end of the day, our bodies will do what they do, whether we like it or not. We can react to those changes and either go with or fight them, depending on the scenario. While I was definitely a go-with-the-flow woman in pregnancy (and I am in life, in general), this time around I’m fighting, and I’m fighting hard. Because that little baby needs me, and I plan to be here for him as long as I can.

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.

Chemo Crash


I started chemo on Thursday. The first time is filled with questions: How will I feel? Will it hurt? Will I get sick?

Obligatory chemo selfie

For me, it just felt weird. I can’t really explain it any other way. There wasn’t pain, and thanks to anti-nausea meds, I didn’t get sick beyond feeling a little queasy.

On Friday, I felt good enough to go wig shopping and have lunch with my son, who is staying with family this weekend (good preparation on my part). I was tired enough for two little naps, but not overly wiped out.

Fast-forward to today, Saturday. Holy hell, am I pooped. I have slept almost all day. Eating is an exhausting chore. I can barely muster the energy to text back well-meaning friends checking on me. This blog post is probably the biggest thing I’ve done all day.

I really hope tomorrow is better. A restful day is nice, but this is a little much.