Nearing the end of the countdown!!! 2 days until my final chemo infusion, and then most likely a week of physical and emotional detox before I can begin feeling relatively normal. I’m trying to remember what it was like not to question my body and the ever increasing side effects of this routine, and I can only wonder whether I will take my health for granted again. Will this experience make me even more hyper-sensitive or vigilant regarding my health?
Regardless, I plan on going to my last infusion in style- blue wig and tiara, courtesy of the fabulous Reen. We will toast to the staff and celebrate with friends who have been chemo buddies throughout the 5 months of weekly visits to the infusion unit at Swedish. We will eat cupcakes and sip champagne while the last doses of taxotere and carboplatin get absorbed by my body. We will be joyous and wacky in an attempt to mark the occasion as an ending and to put it behind us.
Funny to think about the many ways a life can change in one year- to consider how challenging it can be to make it through that year in one piece (or at least without losing so much of ones self as to become completely unrecognizable). And, truly, when I look back at one year ago, I hardly do recognize myself. In this year, I have had to reach down and pull from every ounce of courage and strength that I could muster, borrowing many times from friends and family, and outright faking it much of the time. I’ve come a long way, baby, but I have a long way to go.
After a one week break from chemo, I’m looking at three more infusions. Even though it’s been over a week since I’ve had my last treatment, I’m still feeling pretty crappy. The heartburn and urpy sensations continue, along with some very raw nasal passages. This chemo thing is no joke- it’s pretty damned unpleasant. I have no clue how I will muster what it will take to make it through the next three treatments. I used to think of three as such a small number…
On the beautiful bright side, this weekend I enjoyed a lovely visit from my sister Tami and her family. Although I was nervous about the initial shock of everyone seeing me in my post chemo state, it was actually quite an affirmation that family can be a good source of unconditional love. Even with moments of chemo brain, hot flashes, and a bald (or at least mostly bald) head, I felt like me- wacky and silly Wendi who says off the wall things and is a walking contradiction. Who couldn’t appreciate that? And even though I was tentative about having any strength to make it through a full day of family fun, I actually experienced a surprising amount of energy and had an incredible time being a part of a tribe- no matter how dissimilar we all are. That’s the beauty of family- that a person can be whoever he or she is and he or she will still be loved. Warts and all.
I had the strangest feeling after my fifteenth chemo infusion- a feeling similar to being on dry land after a day of boating. Standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I sensed that I was still connected to the tubes and equipment that hold the bags of chemotherapy medications. When I moved, I had the vision of tubing coming from my chest, and I had the urge to wheel the infusion pole beside me. I made my way to bed and curled up in an exhausted heap, thankful that I’m nearly finished with this routine. I woke up unattached to any medical equipment, but with a lingering reminder that I have three infusions in the near future.
Maybe the fact that I’ve finally re-entered a structured yoga class is helping me with the mind-body connection, and this episode was a wakening of my senses. Or maybe it was a reminder that this cancer treatment experience will continue to be with me, even when I’m not connected to tubes. Either way, it was a freaky sensation, and it was a reminder that I hold every detail of this process in my body- every bit of what I’ve been through leaves an imprint, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual.
On the physical side, I’m the chemo chick poster child. I’ve become attached to my three cotton turbans, and I’ve decided that I have no time or energy to learn how to tie the proper head scarf (and I’m not as brave or dynamic as I had envisioned I would be- boldly going without any head covering at all). All but my thumbnails are gone, and my fingertips are looking pretty darned unhealthy. I’ve gained a good bit of weight from those pesky steroids (and the food that I can’t seem to keep from eating), I continue to experience daily nose bleeds, my skin tone is pasty, and I have some lovely bags under my eyes. Not the diva I had hoped to be…but, all in all, good spirits.
I’m ready to be done with chemo, though- to have Fridays free and to know that I won’t have the pesky side effects of fatigue, nausea or heartburn- to have the promise of good things in my future. Countdown: three more infusions. March 6th should be the last one (time for a celebration!). Then it’s every three weeks for Herceptin treatments for one year, PET scans every 6 months, and the beginnings of a new normal. Whatever normal means.
First day of chemo began with early morning surgery to place the porta cath. We arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. met by our friend “donut Jenn” who made sure the staff had a box full of Top Pot Donuts. We had little time to digest the fullness of the day (or any donuts, doggonit) before the preparations for surgery began- updating records, taking vitals, giving me my fabulous surgical outfit to change into (complete with cozy socks), and then it was off to surgery at 7:30 a.m. promptly. I was out of surgery and into recovery by 8:30 a.m., and we were off to meet the oncologist, have bloodwork done, and then to the treatment center where I would have my first chemo infusion.
The Swedish Cancer Clinic has a nice treatment center where they offer beverages hot or cold, brown bag lunches, cookies, custard, etc., but what I was craving was a pomegranate Jamba Juice. Reen rushed to get us our juice when my Herceptin infusion began, and was back with hot soup and juice before I knew it. We sat for six hours in a lovely corner where we looked out on the veranda complete with japanese maples, bamboo, and grasses for us to admire. I truly didn’t spend much time admiring anything, however, as I slept a good portion of my infusion (except for the insane reaction I had to the Benadryl, after which I got a horribly inappropriate case of the giggles and a desire to wiggle my body….then I fell asleep again).
I’ve been told that the first infusion is one of the easiest, and that I may experience increased fatigue, muscle ache, and some nausea with the infusions to come. Although I’m not looking forward to the next several months of chemo, I feel as prepared as I can be. Today my shoulder aches from the surgery, but I feel quite good. My plan is to get my hair cut to a shorter, funkier style, because I’ve been told I could have just a bit more time with locks on my head if my hair isn’t long. I know it’s putting off the inevitable, but I want to avoid looking like a cancer patient as long as I can. When I do shave my head, I know I have some wonderful scarves and hats to wear thanks to friends who’ve donated them. I also know that I will make it through this journey with a few more scars that will add to my personal roadmap (and the mosaic of my life).