poster child

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.

starkness

Chemo girl is on vacation for 2 weeks. I was told on Friday that the symptoms that I’ve been experiencing are a sign that I need to take a break from from my weekly dose of toxic cancer kicking juice. I was upset at first, because I want this @*!#ing chemo situation to end sooner than later, but when my sweet oncologist suggested that I could possibly have permanent damage if I continued with another infusion, I agreed to a break. Instead of sitting for half a day in the infusion chair, I sat for only one hour of Herceptin treatment. Irene and I made our way off of icy Capitol Hill and enjoyed Indian food in the University District. Much better than chemo, and no nausea or heartburn over the weekend. Not too shabby, I say. And having a weekend of snow made my spirits soar. Nothing like a good romp in the snow to remind oneself that there is good reason to rejoice in the pure joy of being alive. (especially if that romp involves witnessing dogs and/or children experiencing the unabashed pleasure of snow play). And nothing like a blanket of snow to bring a new perspective on the outside world and to enforce a focus on the moment.

Another minor setback in my cancer treatment world is that I will have one more surgery to look forward to in 2008. My porta cath, which has been a trooper for 10 treatments of chemo,will be replaced on January 31st. I’ve been noticing a spot where my skin was darkening, and after weeks of no change, the area became darker and my skin actually split over the port. Apparently, this happens on occasion,  and the suggestion was to remove this port to avoid an infection that could go straight to my heart (yikes). Needless to say, I reserved the first available surgical appointment for removal of the old port and insertion of a new one. Perfect timing to rest between infusions.

I remember beginning treatment as the leaves were turning in the fall. Now, at the winter solstice, I am taking my first break. A time to regain strength, to go inward, and to reflect on what really matters. Looking out at where my garden sits, under a deep blanket of heavy snow, I am reminded of what it takes to make a blossom. Even the most beautiful flower must experience starkness…and this is my stark time. Though I don’t know that plants obsess over their lack of bloom. As much as I attempt to be present in my cancer experience, I am still shocked at my image in the mirror, and I envy women with cleavage, hair, and energy. I regret that I never acknowledged my own beauty before, and that it took a diagnosis of breast cancer to make me appreciate my body. And now I don’t remember what it feels like to bloom.

bliss.

Ahhhhh- yoga! Reen and I attended our first post-surgery yoga class this past week, and it felt phenomenal. What joy to move my body in ways that I haven’t been able to (as in, downward dog) until now. This healing process is a long one filled with moments of humility and growth, and it’s been amazing to recognize how much certain ways of moving and being have meant to me. I’ve been practicing my own mini sessions of very modified yoga at home, but being in a class of other yogi’s and yogini’s who have been touched by cancer was pure bliss. It was a mellow and gentle class, which was perfect for both of us. Even my sweet Reen left relaxed (though starving) and pleased that we attended. We left the class with smiles on our faces, and headed directly to Red Mill Burgers for garden burgers and a milk shake. Again, it was bliss.

Five infusions down now, and as of this Sunday evening, I’m feeling pretty good. Just a touch of acid stomach and the usual fatigue that overtakes me by 5 p.m.  The steroids allow me to celebrate my vibrancy through Sunday morning, and then I begin to fear symptoms of nausea and exhaustion. This week, however, I’m on a new nausea routine of morning protein drinks (thanks, mom!) and small snacks throughout the day. So far, fingers crossed, I’m not nauseous, and I only feel a bit funky in my belly. Not bad! After a week of suffering terrible indigestion with heartburn, my plan is to be more careful with what I eat. Boy, though, the cravings for starch are intense! Read More »

first infusion down

first chemo!
first chemo!

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).