So those bulbs I planted back in November started blooming about 3 weeks ago. It is nice to look at the flowers sprouting up out of the dead leaves and remember where I was when we planted them (in the chemo haze) and where I am now (feeling renewed!) I think I got lucky with the timing, being able to hibernate through the chemo and emerging with the sun shining and the flowers blooming. Good idea Ma!
So I have decided to keep a photo diary of my hair regrowth after chemo. I haven’t gotten an official haircut yet, but I do have one scheduled for March 10. Here is the progress from Dec-Feb.
So I did finish radiation mid. Jan., and besides a geometric shaped suntan, my skin is all healed up. My left side is definitely tighter than the right and I know I need to get back to my physical therapy protocol. I also want to start exercising, but I am so tired after work, I can’t swing it right now.
I “eased” back into work trying to stick to a part time schedule for a while, but that proved to be hard to manage. My job is really not a part time job. I am now back up to full time at work, and I guess probably like everyone else, I am having good days and bad days. I still don’t feel 100% and I’m pretty fatigued at the end of the day, but it is nice to be engaged again.
At the moment, I have a wicked cold/flu type thing that has been hanging on for a week. Not fun. It has given me flashbacks to chemo. I am really sick of being sick, I’m over it. I also started having stress dreams about a possible cancer recurrence and people I care about getting diagnosed with cancer. I wake up in a cold sweat. Last night I actually had a dream that my dog and my brother both got diagnosed with lymphoma, WTF, not cool. Now I am wondering if I should be in therapy. So yea, I have that going on right now.
So what can I say now that treatment is mostly over and I look back on what was a really strange 2011? I still remember when I first heard the cancer diagnosis and then the word “mastectomy”, I couldn’t believe it….I still kind of can’t believe it. But I will say it is amazing how you adjust and recenter yourself. The funny thing is that I never felt brave or strong at all, but you kind of surprise yourself when survival mode kicks in. There were also great gifts through the journey; periods of deep calmness, expressions of so much love and appreciation for things in a new way.
So yea, I think this match can safely be called now. AQ vs. BC. By unanimous decision, the judges award this one to AQ. Yea, I did that.
Radiation continues and so does the skin irritation. I tried to get a shot of it in the bathroom mirror without revealing too much (see below). This is actually looking better than than it was a few weeks ago. I don’t really have much more to say about Radiation at this point except it’s a bitch.
Deep in concerntration trying to get this shot.
Um, so the skin “irritation” from radiation has become very intense. It is scarlet red, and it burns and itches. This is not like any sunburn I have ever had. That analogy just doesn’t cut it. It’s more like the area was hit with a blow torch (OK, so maybe that is a tad extreme, but it’s bad). It is slowly becoming all-consuming. I wish I could post a picture, because it’s insane looking, but that would be sort of X-rated, so instead I am posting a picture of a tree that I took on my walk with Tiggy.
I have been getting a therapy called “bolus,” where a wet towel is draped over the skin. You might think this nice soothing wet towel provides an extra layer of protection, (this is what I thought at first), but what it actually does is allows for a full dose of radiation to be delivered directly to the skin’s surface. The bolus mimics tissue, essentially fooling the radiation beam, so that it deposits the maximum dose on the skin’s surface instead of a fraction of an inch deeper (as it would otherwise). This therapy is used for breast cancer, because of the potential for skin involvement in a possible recurrence. A skin reaction is inevitable in this scenario. This is particularly bad news for someone who had chemo prior to radiation. This is worse news for someone with sensitive skin.
Here is a list of things I feel like complaining about:
- I got breast cancer, WTF.
- 80,000+ chemicals have been introduced into our environment since 1900.
- My skin is on fire (see above).
- I have a stiff neck and am feeling concerned about possible ongoing tightness/problems after radiation.
- I am starting to feel fatigued. This is a serious bum-out because I was on such a high from having regained my energy after chemo.
- I am starting to hate the phrase “new normal.”
- My high-fives and toasting to the end of BC treatment feel a little premature at the moment. I think I underestimated radiation.
- I am ready to get the final reconstruction surgery and wrap this up, but I have to wait 6-8 months for the skin to recover after radiation. I am also worried that the skin might not fully recover.
- I feel pissed off that I have to get radiation in addition to the chemo.
- I am worried about long-term effects of the chemo and radiation.
Here is a random list of things I am thankful for (this helps me to balance things out):
- I caught the cancer early.
- Chemo is done.
- My friends and family.
- I had an awesome trip to NYC with Andrea and it was great to see Courtney, Joe and Alicia.
- Food tastes good again and I’m going out to dinner at Acqua Al2 on Christmas Eve with Jim and my folks (anyone tried it?)
- Food tastes good again and my folks are cooking an amazing Christmas dinner out in Annapolis on Sunday.
- Alcohol tastes good again and I bought some nice Prosecco for Christmas. (I seem to be obsessed with my sense of taste at the moment.)
- Little things seem to be giving me more pleasure.
- I feel less anxious and more grounded in general these days.
- My hair is starting to grow back.
- Tiggy is hilarious.
- Ty is home.
- I like people at my work.
- I found a great yoga teacher.
- My house is clean.
- I had a nice lunch with Liz O. today.
- I have a week off, thanks Threespot.
- I love cool sunny days.
- I have fresh crisp white sheets on my bed.
- The rash on my chest is not on my face.
OK, I feel better. Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday. Peace.
I started radiation with Dr. Victoria Croog at Sibley on Dec. 5. I go there every day (M-F) for a 3:15 apt. and I’m usually out in about an hour. This will continue through the third week in January.
So far, so good, just minor skin irritation and a little stiffness in my arm. I am supposed to be focusing on exercising and stretching regularly. I started a yoga class that I love, but it’s just once a week on Sundays. I’m going to start back up at the UMD gym 3-4 times a week, I just haven’t been quite motivated enough to start.
Dr. Croog and others I have talked to said the treatments can cause fatigue and that exercise can help. For some patients the fatigue is more pronounced and can last for months after treatment, but others breeze through. I am hoping I breeze through!
Here I am at Sibley before round 3 radiation. You can see my hair is starting to grow back in. This is a good angle because you can’t see the bald spots in the back. More reports on the hair to come…
I was pretty apprehensive about getting back to work. I started to feel the kind of jitters you get when you are starting a new job (which are intense for me). Would I have enough energy to get through the day? Would it feel overwhelming? Was the project I was working on still as stressful as it was when I left?
I have learned that these kind of “what if” questions bring me a lot of undue anxiety. It is much better to just face what’s in front of me at the moment and deal with it. Once I got to work and got settled, I found there was nothing to worry about. All the awesome people at Threespot were happy to have me back and I was happy to be back.
So I’m taking it one day at a time and working on being in the moment and keeping the new perspective that I have gained in focus. I think beating breast cancer makes work feel easy now, so that’s cool.
Oh also, my friend Hobbs gave me this on my first day back (see below). It’s a hat his talented wife Mira made for me! C’mon, that is really nice right?
After chemo ended, I had the urge to see the ocean.
Jim and I booked a long weekend in Folley Beach, South Carolina right before Thanksgiving. The 10-hour drive down was a little rougher than I thought it would be. Horrible car sickness kicked in around hour 6, and I wondered if I had pushed too hard to get out of town. I started to freak out when we got into our rental house. Something about it seemed cold and sterile. I felt sick and disoriented, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t seem to enjoy a vacation. Jim assured me that this feeling would pass and not to worry so much. I settled down and went to bed. Did I mention before that I can be a little bit of a freakazoid sometimes? I can’t blame this on the cancer, I have always been this way (I am working on it).
It turns out that Jim was right (surprise, surprise). The next day things started looking up. I wasn’t expecting to swim, but it was in the upper 70’s, and the water was warm. It felt great to dive into the ocean, breathe in the salt air, and feel the sand under my feet. We took long walks, watched Tiggy explore the ocean for the first time, found a great taco spot, and laughed a lot. I am already thinking about going back…
Dr. Isaacs said it’s normal to feel down after this is all over and everyone is expecting you to just move on. I wasn’t expecting it, but when I gave the Dr. and my nurses hugs on the last day, I broke down crying so hard. Jim looked slightly confused by my melt down. It does seem like the last day of chemo is supposed to be a happy day, but it’s actually bittersweet in a strange way. The doctors and nurses really know what you are going through and everyone is so focused on healing you. I am really going to miss my crew at Georgetown and having all the support. Dr. Isaacs, Karra and Lilly you are terrific, I won’t miss the chemo, but I will miss you. See you in 3 months.
The last chemo was actually pretty rough. The fatigue hit earlier and stayed longer. I felt like a weird creature that was going through a painful molting process. Everyone wanted to celebrate right away but I really wasn’t ready. I did keep putting one foot in front of the other, and gradually, I started coming through the haze.
I need to give a special shout out to my parents “my skeleton crew.” Not only are they the best parents anyone could ask for, they live close by, and they are retired. This is very helpful during chemo. Thanks Ma and D.O.D (Dear Old Dad) for carting me around, putting up with my mood swings, and well, for everything.
In an effort to keep me moving and to help keep my spirits up, my Mom took me shopping for bulbs the day after chemo. The next day we planted over 100 bulbs in my garden. It was tiring, but it felt good to have the sun shining on my face, and to feel the dirt in my hands. I think Marcia and Bob Russell should write a book on parenting. I love you guys.
It seemed fitting on our 4-year wedding anniversary to donate my wedding dress to Brides Against Breast Cancer. It was a little sad to see it go, but it felt right. I hope someone feels as happy and pretty in it as I did. Mom, that wedding dress shopping day was the best! Bon voyage to my beautiful Reem Acra gown!
Letting the dress go also reminds me to enjoy the present moment, breast cancer treatment and all. Jim and I have had 14 great years together, and this year has really shown me new and wonderful things about the strength of our relationship and the character of my partner. How lucky am I to be married to my best friend? Sound cheesy? Too bad, it’s true. Jim I adore you, Happy Anniversary.
A lovely day. A wonderful marriage. Happy Anniversary.