Frequently asked questions: The next chapter

I think it’s time for another round of FAQ’s, don’t you? Here we go!

Your hair looks so good! Are you going to keep it short?

If I had a dollar for every person who has told me I should keep my hair this short… well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I could at least buy a nice sweater or something. I appreciate the compliments and everyone’s fascination with my hair growth process. However, I have no intention of keeping my current boy-cut. Having your hair fall out is totally traumatic. Having your hair grow back is totally awesome. I want it to keep growing. I have frequent dreams where my hair is suddenly long again. I look at old photos constantly and lament the loss of my long hair. So although this short “style” (if you can call it a style) is extremely low-maintenance, and perhaps one day I’ll go back to it… it’s still not me. It’s not my choice. And it still reminds me of cancer.

So everything’s good now, right? You feel good?

I never know how to answer this one. Yes, I feel pretty good, in comparison to how I felt when I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs or raise my arms or sit up without assistance. It’s hard to complain about anything when I know what it really is to not feel well. But if you want to know the truth, I’m not just “fine” and “all better.” I still suffer from fatigue all the time. I often hit a wall in the late afternoon where I feel like I need to lie down and nap. I try not to plan more than one “exhausting activity” (such as grocery shopping) per day, because sometimes I can’t keep up. I have side effects from my drugs. Sporadic bone or joint pain. Headaches. Pelvic pain. Hot flashes. The constant drip of my nose. Tightness around my implant where I received radiation. Lots of little reminders, scattered here and there. So yes, I’m feeling pretty great, and thankful every day for my health. But it’s not perfect. And it probably won’t be for a long time.

You’re all done with treatment now, right?

Oh my gosh, you guys! Don’t you read this blog? I am totally NOT done with treatment. Every three weeks, I continue to check-in at chemo daycare and wait around 1-2 hours to begin my treatment. My port is then accessed with a needle and hooked up to an IV. It’s injected with saline, which leaves a gross taste in my mouth. Then I receive my medication for the next two hours. Then I go home and feel tired. I have been doing this for a year. And I am ALMOST done. In fact, Jan 31st should be my last trip into Chemoland, if you want to mark it in your calendars. That phase will be over, but I will still be taking my Tamoxifen each and every night and dealing with its thrilling and varied side effects (see above) for a looooong time. But it’s all a small price to pay for the chance to live, in my opinion.

Did you ever end up catching that mouse in your house?

No! The little guy is super sneaky and exceedingly intelligent. We have had a few sightings and have set up a variety of traps. Somehow, he is not falling for any of it. He knows what’s up. So for the time being, he is living with us. Really, he’s an ideal houseguest, as he mostly keeps to himself and stays out of sight and doesn’t ask for anything. But unfortunately, unlike with our other houseguests, our goal is still to murder him. Sorry, mouse. It’s a cruel world out there. As I have learned time and time again, sometimes life just ain’t fair.

Last week pre-treatment in the waiting room. The christmas tree was pink and adorned with cupcakes.
Last week pre-treatment in the waiting room. The christmas tree was pink and adorned with cupcakes and candy. Now that’s my kind of tree. Merry Christmas!

A few small steps

I just went for a walk to get a sub. It took about 20 minutes total and my legs are burning as if I just ran across the country. When I think back about how far I used to walk, I can’t even imagine it now, but hopefully I will be able to build up some strength again eventually since my current physical state is probably close to that of a 90 year-old woman. All in good time. For now, I’m pretty impressed that I made it there and back and am still alive to tell the tale. Gold star for me.

I have been watching a bunch of TV, which is a good sign, because when I am at my worst, I don’t even have enough energy to to watch television. Which shows how much chemo destroys your ability to do even the laziest possible activity. I’m all caught up on The Vampire Diaries after falling behind for a bit and losing track of which ancient vampire was trying to kill which modern-day hybrid werewolf. I am aware that I am definitely older than the target demographic for this show, but lately all I want to watch are teen shows. I’m sure a psychologist would say it’s some sort of regression/coping mechanism, to avoid all of the very grown-up stuff I have to deal with daily. But I don’t think so. I just love shows made for 14 year-old girls. I have also been watching a ton of Felicity on DVD (thanks, Nicole!) since I somehow missed out on watching it as an actual teen. Very riveting stuff.

Felicity's big haircut.. such a dramatic moment in TV history
Felicity’s big haircut.. such a dramatic moment in TV history

I wanted to reply to each of the comments on my last couple of posts because they were all so thoughtful, but I felt anything I could say would not do justice to the kind words you left for me. I couldn’t believe all the love I got after sharing the sad state I was in. Honestly, if you are feeling down about humans and their ability to show compassion for each other, I urge you to go back and read through all the comments people leave here. I am so lucky to have so much support coming at me.

I am starting to feel better again, in terms of my mood and body pains and fatigue. Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to really catch a break, and my eye troubles have not let up. In fact, today, I counted seven little styes on one of my eyelids. I’ve lost count of how many I have had now since last week. I am not sure why it is happening as it does not seem to be a common cancer thing. I also have permanent teary eyes so it is hard for me to see most of the time. I have walked into a few walls. In short, I look like a mess. I am seeing an ophthalmologist on Friday so we’ll see what that brings. If they try to put anything in my eye, you will likely hear my screams wherever you are. After everything I have been through, I still feel squeamish at the idea of anyone or anything getting near my eye.

So with the eye troubles, I believe I have had every part of my body have some sort of issue. But it’s okay guys, it could be worse. I mean, my head could fall off. There’s always that.

My mom gave me this button.
My mom gave me this button.

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.

Side effects may include the following

I’m tired.

This week has been a long one. On Tuesday, I was at the hospital almost the entire day, dealing with various appointments and consultations, and an unfortunate mix-up with my blood. I had to hear more things about my “prognosis being slightly worse” because of my age and “greater chances of it coming back” because of X, Y, and Z, and blah blah blah, and again process the idea of more treatment, which is starting to feel never-ending. It is difficult not to get upset after these types of conversations. My typical routine is to get through it, keep myself composed, ask all the right questions, and then go home and scream and cry and shout “I don’t want to dieeeeeee!” and hyperventilate for a minute or two. Then after exhausting myself, I usually put some crap on the TV like The Bachelor (my saving grace as of late) and distract myself until the next wave of panic hits for one reason or another.

Needless to say, it is exhausting. I keep telling people that I am bored. But it’s not the bored you are thinking of, where I have nothing to do. In fact, I often feel like I have too much to do and not enough time. It is more a case of an overall boredom with cancer. I am bored of dealing with it, talking about it, stressing about it. Bored. I want to be focused on something else. I would rather be complaining about the cold that many people on my Facebook seem to have. I would rather be staring at a wall, watching paint dry, or scratching my fingernails across a chalkboard. Essentially, I would rather be doing almost anything. That is where I’m at.

I have been experiencing some bad pains in my back the past couple days. For the average person, back pain would be of little concern. But anyone who has or had cancer can tell you that any new type of pain can be a cause for alarm. It is nearly impossible not to quickly jump to the conclusion that bad pain means the cancer has spread. I wish my brain did not go there, to such a dark place. I wish I could brush off pain the way other people are lucky enough to be able to do. But I can’t. Will I ever be able to? I’m not sure. But for right now, I am really hoping the pain gets better, because I don’t need a new worry to add to the list. The list is getting awfully long, my friends.

Tomorrow I go for my next chemo, which involves a new regimen. The infusions will take a total of 5 hours. With the typical wait times, I will likely be in the hospital all day. Please feel free to suggest fun things to do while sitting in a chemo chair for 5 hours.

The new chemo involves a drug which is typically known as one of the more horrendous chemo drugs one can receive. Fun possible side effects include neuropathy, debilitating mouth sores, terrible body pains and aches, loss of nails, and extreme fatigue, among others. As my oncologist said, I don’t think you’re going to like it too much. I should mention that over the next few days, or possibly week, I likely won’t be too great at responding to any emails or messages. Know that if I don’t answer you, I am most likely lying under my covers in the dark listening to some sort of “Songs for sad emo wussies” playlist on Songza.

I will also be starting my first round of the drug that will hopefully have a life-saving effect on me. And in addition, I start my clinical trial drug, where I will either be receiving a real drug, or a placebo. I will not know. Please cross your fingers for me that I receive the real deal. My chemo drug also has a tendency to cause severe allergic reactions, which is why I am currently hopped up on steroids and will be for the next couple days. So please cross your fingers as well that I don’t have a severe reaction when they start the drug. In fact, cross your toes too, if you have the ability to do that. Lots of happy thoughts tomorrow, if you can spare some.

On a slightly cheerier note, this week was a really great one in the I’m-a-cancer-patient-so-I-get-lots-of-gifts arena. I received a handmade tshirt from an old schoolmate (and former prom queen, hollaaa!) who now lives in New Zealand. She somehow created a stencil of me wearing a scarf and incorporated a cupcake theme and painted it on, and the whole thing was beyond impressive to me. I wore it to the hospital yesterday, proudly. I also got another package from the The Canary Islands (yes, many of my friends live in weird, exotic locales) which included a super soft sleep mask that I will likely bring with me tomorrow in hopes that it induces a nice chemo coma. And I got some more pretty nail polishes from my new pen pal, who volunteers to send me things through an organization, out of the goodness of her kind heart. On the food side, I have some soup, mashed potatoes, cookies and more goodies waiting for me. You all have no idea how much these things brighten my day. Well, hopefully you do. Because I just told you.

That’s all I wish to share for right now. Think of me tomorrow, with my hands and feet submerged in buckets of ice (something I have to do to try to prevent finger and feet problems). Hopefully that creates an interesting picture for you.

See you on the other side.

Today.