Surgical tales, volume II

It has been a few days since my surgery, and I’m happy to report that I made it through. Thanks to those who have written to me. I’ve been a bit slow on responding but I appreciate your concern and warm wishes. Thanks to Katie S. for that sweet hospital gown, and Tiffany for the nice tea, and Maytal for the lasagnas and banana bread (which made the hubs very happy as well), and the Rock-it Promo team for all the fun products and DVDs, and everyone else who has sent cards and nice things. Thank you!

The surgery went well, from what I can tell. I didn’t get to actually speak to my surgeon after I woke up, but I assume if something had gone terribly wrong, I would have been informed. I don’t remember too much, because the anesthetic tends to do strange things to your memory, which is probably for the best. I do recall crying like a baby when a nurse started my IV through my wrist. I’m not sure why she chose my wrist, but she poked me several times and the pain was way more severe than I expected. I was in the middle of talking to a surgical fellow, when I realized I was in pain. So I did what any normal adult woman would do, and I pulled the blanket over my head and sobbed. Lately I have realized that my hospital crying sessions are about a 50/50 mix of emotional and physical pain. The instant my brain receives the signal that I am again in pain, however small or fleeting it may be, I am overcome with the realization of how much my body has been attacked and how much I have gone through since finding that lump, and the sheer absurdity of the entire thing. The tears come more from exhaustion than from anything else. I am tired of the pain, I am tired of feeling like some sort of botched science experiment. The tears are just inevitable at this point, and I let them flow freely, as they wish.

I also remember the mask being lowered onto my face, which I do not enjoy, as I am highly claustrophobic. Upon realizing this, the kind anesthesiologist did his drug magic and gave me something to knock me out before the real knock out. I made a comment about how ugly the ceiling was and how there should be something more pleasant to stare at while you wait to lose consciousness, and then that’s the last I remember. Lights out.

I was not in the hospital very long this time around. I wanted to go home that evening, and I believe I said to the nurse, “Get me the eff out of this place.” So she got the approval for me to be discharged and I didn’t have to sleep in the hospital and hear the chemo machines beep all night. A sound which now triggers a queasy feeling inside whenever I hear it.

I’ve been doing well at home. As people had told me, the recovery for this surgery is definitely much easier than the first, which I’m very happy about. I was only on the heavy drugs for a couple days, and now the pain is tolerable with no drugs, as long as I don’t move around too much. I have my stupid surgical drains, which I hope to get removed by my home care nurse in the next couple days. If you have no idea what drains are, consider yourself lucky. Don’t google it. It’s about as gross as it sounds.

The weather finally seems to be getting a bit nicer outside. I went for a walk today. And by a walk, I mean a few steps out my door and then back. But I got to feel the sun for a bit, which was nice. It’s days like these that it’s best for me to stay away from social media, where everyone is making grand proclamations about their love of springtime and all the fun things they’re doing today. It’s hard to relate to everyone else when you have tubes hanging out of your body. Right now, I am most looking forward to getting clearance to take a bath. You don’t realize how wonderful something like taking a simple shower or bath is, until that privilege is taken away from you. The little things.

I don’t have a current photo to post because I am not feeling particularly photo-friendly at the moment. But posts that are all text are a bit boring, so I’ll leave you with this old photo of me. At some department store, in Paris, laughing over something that probably wasn’t all that funny. I hope to be doing this again sometime in the future.

 

Why is this night different from all other nights

Tonight marks the first night of Passover, which is typically one of my favourite holidays. But right now, I am not in the festive mood. Unfortunately, the holiday decided to fall this year during my darkest of chemo days, so I do not get to celebrate. Thanks a bunch, lunar calendar. I am lying on a couch, alone, cursing the world, missing out on my family’s seder. I am not eating brisket or the many other delicious Jewish delicacies that soothe my soul. I would not even be able to taste the flavours if I tried. Instead of the happy, warm feelings I usually feel this time of year, I am filled with anger, sadness, loneliness. I am a Bitter Betty. Lately I feel as though holidays only exist as a painful reminder of what I am missing out on. What normal life was once like. I am watching life go by around me, and I want to jump in, but I can’t. And yes, I know one day, I will get back to living life and doing fun things and blah blah blah. I haven’t completely given up. But for today, I am having a big fat bad cancer day and I just want to wallow and feel sorry for myself. I want my damn brisket and I want to be able to taste it.

I want these so badly right now.
I want these so badly right now.

There was so much excitement over my last chemo round and ringing the bell and I thank all of you who rallied around me. It definitely makes everything easier, having nice friends like you. I wish I could be your happy cancer patient all the time. I wish I could be your shining beacon of positivity and let you know that you can make every day a great one if you just think happy thoughts, no matter how dire your situation. But the truth is, on days like this, when my drugs are making me completely looney and I can’t think straight and I haven’t slept more than a few hours in four days, positive thinking isn’t really going to get me anywhere.

I know for some people who are walking the cancer line, it is fundamental to their process to always keep on the sunny side. Always on the sunny side. And that is fine. Whatever gets you through. But for me, I have learned that sometimes I just need to be comfortable in my misery and sink into it. I don’t think this makes me weak, although all the images of super peppy cancer patients that saturate the media sometimes make me feel different. But I guess no one wants to see images of people crying all the time and looking like they’re a few inches away from death. Fair enough. If I were healthy and living my life, mostly oblivious of my own mortality, I wouldn’t want to think about those things either. But I don’t have that luxury. I have to stare at my reflection as I stumble past the mirror in my room in the middle of the night, and wonder who that shell of a person is and why she is standing in my place. No fuzzy, happy thoughts. Just reality. For the time being, at least.

Yesterday, I forced myself to go for a short walk with my husband, since the sun was actually out. I hid under my hood with my big sunglasses, as I often do these days. I started crying. I hate all these stupid bitches with their stupid hair. I actually said that out loud. I never in my life thought I would be so jealous of people, just for having hair. It’s not like it is their fault. You don’t have cancer, and I do. Bad luck for me, but no one’s fault. Yet still, it’s a challenge not to feel envious sometimes, of all you beautiful non-cancer types with your full heads of hair. Walking, laughing. Eating brisket. I want those things. I want them now.

I am pretty sure I will completely regret writing this post in a week when my chemo is wearing off and the steroids have left my system, but I do feel the need to document my worst days, for some reason. Maybe for the book I might write. Although I’m not sure if depressing cancer stuff is a hot topic for a bestsellers list. Maybe I just want to make other cancer folks who are reading this and having a crap day feel a bit less alone, or feel a bit less pressured to be something they are not. Or maybe when I do experience sweet moments again, I will want to look back at days and weeks like these, to make those moments that much sweeter and remind myself to savor every second. Like when I am one of those annoying bitches, walking around with my hair, without a care in the world. Oh what a day that will be.

Happy Passover to all.

Love, The Passover Grinch

Ringing the bell

I’m happy that I made so many of you happy with my last post. Tomorrow is chemo #6, so since I will probably start depressing the hell out of you by this time next week, I figured I would check in again while the going is mostly good.

I am currently chomping on some crackers to take with my pre-chemo dose of steroids. I will be on a lower dose this round, which hopefully will minimize some psychotic feelings and fat face and other issues, while still doing its job of mitigating serious reactions to the chemotherapy. I have learned that most of cancer treatment is trying to find a middle ground between making sure your treatment is doing its job and making sure you aren’t completely miserable and in constant agony. That sweet spot is a very difficult one to find, indeed.

I am still feeling pretty decent, all things considered. I have developed some uncomfortable muscle pain the past couple days, which I imagine is a delayed reaction to the cumulative chemo sessions. I also have constant runny eyes which can make it difficult to see, and a constant drippy nose, which can make it difficult not to be gross. Some side effects can show up after completing chemo (something fun to look forward to!) and last for quite awhile. It is difficult to deal with the toll all of this has taken on my body. A lot of people don’t realize the severe effects cancer treatment has on your physical well-being, long after the treatment is over. I worry sometimes about long-term muscle pain, joint pain, exhaustion, fogginess. I worry that people won’t understand and will expect me just to be like any other normal young gal. But I will never be normal. Nothing about this is normal. I guess I will just have to deal with it, same as I have been with everything else. And hope that I will find nice people to carry me up a flight of stairs when my legs start to ache as they do now.

So tomorrow is my final chemo. I made it through to the end of this grueling part of my aggressive treatment plan. At my hospital, when one finishes their chemo treatments, there is a bell you’re supposed to ring and people clap and whatnot. I’ve been a bit torn about ringing the bell. In three weeks, I will be right back in the chemo chair, because I need to continue to receive targeted antibody drugs for an entire year, due to my badass type of cancer. There are still side effects, but they should not be nearly as severe. I have already started on those drugs, but since they’re currently mixed in with my chemo cocktail, it’s difficult to know which side effect is a result of which drug. Hopefully, it will be a breeze compared to what I’ve been dealing with. But the fact that I will still be hooked up to bags of drugs every three weeks for a year makes me feel a bit reluctant to ring the bell.

However, after some deliberation, I have decided I am going to ring that goddamn bell. I have had to sit in that chair many times, with cytotoxic liquid dripping into my veins, hearing the bell ring and feeling envious of the person ringing it. That lucky bastard. So, now it’s my turn. I’ve earned it. And around this time next year, I will ring it again. Harder. In all likelihood, I will probably break it. Poor bell. You have no idea what’s coming your way.

Needing this pep talk to get me through tomorrow. Thanks, Coach Taylor. I can always count on you.

Looking in the mirror

Last week I think I hit a new low of sheer misery. The fatigue that comes with chemotherapy is truly cumulative, and with each new treatment, it is growing increasingly difficult to do any of the things I once enjoyed. Such as taking a walk. Or lifting my laptop. Or lifting my head. The tiniest things we all take for granted have become incomprehensible to me. Memories of the past. Of a life I once lived, where my body would do whatever I asked of it, with ease. I feel as though I have been thrust into old age almost overnight. My bones ache when I try to move them. My body cries out for rest after walking up a few stairs. I wake up at night with hot flashes, my cheeks burning, thanks to the menopausal effects of chemo. Creases are starting to form on the outer corners of my eyes. My stomach and face are bloated constantly from all the drugs, making me look like I am five months pregnant. I can’t follow a basic conversation without losing focus, or feeling like I need to shut my eyes. I am an old lady. At the ripe age of 28.

Chillin with my Goodnight Moon bunny in bed, where I spent all of last week. I am looking super cancer-y these days. Yikes.

It has been difficult for me to look in the mirror lately. I don’t like what I see. A bald, puffy face, with red patches all over my cheeks and glossy eyes. Is that really me? It is hard to feel healthy or strong, when the image reflected back at me is anything but. Lately I am starting to feel as though I will never get my old self back. I can’t imagine having life in my face again. Or having hair. It seems like appearance should be relatively low on the list of things to feel bad about, when you’re dealing with all the crap that comes with a cancer diagnosis. But it is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for me. Looks aren’t everything, but when you’re already feeling just about as low as a human can feel, it really does add insult to injury.

It is hard for me to look at pre-cancer photos of myself now. I feel very disconnected from the girl I see. She’s pretty, and healthy, and happy, and completely unaware of what is about to happen to her. It’s as though I am looking at someone else’s life, even though I know she is me. Did I really do all those things at one time? Did I really look like that? Did I really have hair? I want to go back into those photos, just for one minute, just to remember what it’s like, to be happy and pretty. To soak up those moments. Because they are starting to slip away from me.


I hope that eventually I can start feeling better about what I see in the mirror. View my reflection as an image of a brave warrior, rather than one of a sick cancer patient whose body has been continuously cut, poked, and poisoned. I don’t want to be that girl who cries when she looks in the mirror. I have never been that girl. I refuse to let her win. And anyone who knows me knows I always get my way.