The Sick Blanket


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.


I Miss My Hair


Last night, I dreamed I had hair.

I was walking through a hotel lobby, wearing a cute dress and kind of bouncing with a little swagger in my step. And as I walked, I could feel my long hair bouncing along with me. I remember in the dream touching it, surprised, because I couldn’t believe it was actually there.

I miss my hair so much. I know this is a silly, vain thing. I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is such a minor inconvenience. I know that I should just be grateful that my treatments appear to be working, and the side effect of losing my hair is a small price to pay. I acknowledge all of this.

But, I still miss it.

I run my hands over the fuzz that’s left on my head, willing it to grow and multiply. My oncologist told me that it could start growing back while I’m on Taxol, and I’m trying so hard not to get overly excited at that prospect, lest it not actually happen.

I look at other people out in public, envying them and their full heads of hair. I feel like people with beautiful hair are everywhere. And I’m so jealous of them.

I gaze wistfully at my hair products and appliances, seeing them gather dust in my bathroom. I still shampoo my head, which is kind of silly since there’s so little actual hair there, but it feels better to me to at least use a little something.

I got a pretty nice wig, but to be perfectly honest, I hate wearing it. It looks so fake to me (even though it has fooled quite a few people at my job), it gets hot and itchy, and it has a weird smell. I thought wigs would be fun, but I think they’re more fun when you’re not forced to wear them. I much prefer just wearing my beat-up old ballcap that I’ve had since high school.

So, I’m just watching and waiting, hoping to see some growth.

The Last of the Worst


There’s a light down there, and I’m just a little closer to it.

Today is a big day. I just received the last of the first (and most intense) round of chemo. My oncologist told me today that life will get much better after this. He’s a pretty solid guy, so I’m inclined to believe him.

The first round of my treatment involved two drugs, Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide). If you check out those links, you’ll get a better idea of how I’ve been feeling the past month-and-a-half. Fun stuff. Here’s another fun fact: When my nurse gives me the Adriamycin injection, she has to suit up in what amounts to hazmat gear because it’s dangerous if the drug gets on her clothes or skin. And that’s being injected directly into my jugular via my chemo port. Scary shit, right?

But that’s not the only reason today kind of rocks. During my visit with my doctor, he performed an exam to see if my tumors were still palpable. And guess what? They’re not! I’d actually tried just a couple days ago to feel the one that initially sent me to the doctor and couldn’t find it. There may still be cancer cells in there, but what was a hard, easily noticeable lump is now pretty much nothing! How amazing is that? Eat that, cancer!

Now, I’ll still have to get the bilateral mastectomy because of my BRCA2 status, but knowing these awful drugs have kicked the shit out of my cancer still makes me feel good. It makes me hopeful they’ve zapped anything else that may have spread elsewhere in my body, too.

While I was getting treatment today, the lady sitting in the chair next to me finished her last round of chemo and got to ring the bell. When you finish treatment at my cancer center, there’s a bell everyone gets to ring. This was the first time I ever heard anyone ring it, and man, what a sweet, sweet sound. It brought tears to my eyes, I was so happy for her, and so excited to one day ring that bell myself. That will happen around 13 weeks from now, but when it does, I might break the damn thing, I’m going to ring it so hard.


The Thirst is Real


So, I’ve been pretty lucky thus far in my cancer journey. I’ve felt mostly good. I’ve had some really good days, in fact.

But this past week, things did not go quite so well.

As I was coming off my last treatment, I seemed to have a harder time rebounding. I knew this would happen eventually, as they say the effects are cumulative with chemo.

Around mid-week last week, I had a bout with some digestive issues (I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I spent some quality time in the bathroom). This sort of set the ball rolling for the rest of the week’s problems.

On Thursday, I had an appointment with a plastic surgeon to talk about my reconstruction options. As she went through the choices and told me about the recovery time for each, my heart sank. Intellectually I knew surgery wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but I really had no idea how hard and long that recovery was going to be. No option is a good option, in my mind. And I cannot decide what to do, regarding reconstruction. Part of me wants to say screw it and do nothing, but I don’t know that I’d be satisfied with that, either. I’m just thankful I have several months to figure this out.

During said appointment, I was standing there with the surgeon as she measured my chest. Suddenly, things started getting black and my ears had this weird ringing sensation, almost like I was under water. I knew I was about to faint, so I sat down and then had to take a few minutes to lie down, drink some water and gather myself. It was embarrassing and a little scary.

That afternoon, I had my bi-weekly appointment with the NP to check my immune levels and let her know how I was doing. I told her about the digestive issues and near-fainting, and she said I was probably dehydrated and offered to give me IV fluids. I declined. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Fast-forward to 1 a.m. Saturday morning. I awoke with terrible pain in my kidneys coupled with sciatic nerve pain in my leg (a fun little condition I experience periodically). The kidney pain felt similar to having a UTI or bladder infection that goes untreated too long. It was really bad, and the Tylenol I was taking wouldn’t touch it. Knowing my immune levels were really low at the time from chemo, I feared an infection.

So, I called the triage nurse line that they tell us to use if we have any pain that we can’t manage (among other red flag issues). The nurse couldn’t really diagnose what was going on and told me to come into the ER within 24 hours since the cancer center is closed on weekends.

Unable to handle the pain any longer, my husband took me to the ER around 4 a.m. We were there until around 2 p.m. After blood and urine tests came back clear, along with an MRI (apparently sciatic nerve pain also can be caused by tumors on the spine, so they wanted to rule that out) that showed nothing, there wasn’t a real diagnosis of what was going on. But after IV fluids helped (along with some decent pain meds), I’m pretty sure dehydration was a big factor for the kidney pain. I likely never fully recovered from the digestive episode earlier in the week and my body just had enough.

Of course, I was wiped out from all of that, and had to miss a friend’s party I was really looking forward to that night. I also had a girls’ day planned for the next day with friends and had to beg out of that, too.

I’m feeling better now, but still not 100%. I do have a better sense of the importance of taking care of myself, though, and staying hydrated.

I’m really just hoping this will be a better week. I’m at the point where I’m starting to fatigue of this process. There are some days that I want to just run away and quit. I’m tired of feeling bad. I’m tired of being poked by needles. I’m tired of sleeping horribly. I’m tired of being afraid. I’m just tired of it all.

Toddlers Don’t Care


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.). Because even though I’m tired and a little out of it, toddlers don’t care.


Missed Opportunities


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


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. 🙂







Staring Into the Eye of the Beast


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


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.


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


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.