Friday, December 30, 2011

I'm Not Allowed to Shower.....Again

If I didn't know better (and actually, I don't really) I'd say Koreans have something against combining people and water. After my surgery I went a whole month without showering. No doctor would give me the okay to get under a stream of water. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have been the case in Canada. Now, again, I'm not allowed to shower. This time it is to preserve three "x"s that have been drawn on me which will guide my radiation. They are covered in some plastic film so I might risk it anyway. I can't decide how seriously I should take the showering ban. I mean, these markings are pretty important but they also took about 10 minutes to draw them so I'm sure they can be redone if needs be. The other reality is that, when you have no hair, you don't feel nearly as dirty when you don't shower.

Anyway, I should be getting some tattoos on the 3rd and after that I can shower. Those marks won't be washing off. I'm surprised how low these crosses are. I figured they would be up near the girls but one is about 2 inches north of my belly button and the other two are either four inches to the left or right of that one. Now, I know I'm no expert but these seem all wrong to me. I've decided I'm going to be that annoying woman who thinks she knows better than her expert doctors and ask about it on the 3rd when I have my simulation. I'm going to be so popular at the hospital, I can already tell!

The CT scan so far has been my absolute favorite. It required no needles and it took all of 5 minutes. It was a little weird hanging out with my girls out while 4 Korean men sat on the other side of a window staring. I'm sure it's not everyday that they see a white lade with her bits all exposed so I get the interest. Plus, let's just call a spade a spade shall we: I've got way bigger guns that your average Korean lady. It's my gift and curse.

In my case, I had to lay topless on the scan bed with my arm in a brace above my head. This is the way I suspect I will spend about 1 minute every weekday for the next 6.5 weeks. It isn't terribly comfortable but the arm rest/brace thing is quite helpful in maintaining the position, so there's that. After getting into position I was carefully adjusted by two techs. And I do mean carefully. I was shoved and pulled millimeters one way or another until I was in the correct place. Then the really weird part started. Well, the second really weird part - the first weird part was when the male tech undid my pants and hooked my left hand into my underwear. I guess to keep me in place? The things that happen when you don't speak the language; people just take charge of the situation instead of trying to explain to you want they want you to do.

A male and a female tech started taping wire around my boob. I guess this shows up on the xray and helps to determine what the boundaries of my radiation field should be. I'm only guessing since I really have no idea. Maybe the real story is they have some back room competition to see who can get the biggest boob metal circle each week. If that is the case, I'm sure my techs were the winners. This day will probably live in infamy for them. They'll talk about it for years to come - that one "megook" with the rack!

I digress....the whole point is if this circle will be the extent of the field (and I hope it is) this is why the "X" markings seem so weird - they are nowhere near the field and I really hope the radiation isn't going to be heading down into my abdomen. Once they got the metal circle tapped, into the machine for me. I was all prepared to have to lay there for half an hour but in total I was probably in the machine for 3 minutes. All that deep breathing and relaxation, for nothing!

After that, all that was left was to get dressed and go home. So I did. And now I'm at home, not showering (but thinking about it).

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

I've never been one to shy away from birthdays. Turning 30 didn't freak me out, like it does for others I have heard of. I know for certain now that I will never, ever dread the rolling over of another year on my life's calendar. The day you stop getting older is the day you die and I'm certainly no fan of that option.

Today I turn 31. I'm turning 31 in a context that I did not expect at this time last year, that's for sure. Whether I knew it then or not, I still had cancer, so I'm glad to be the enlightened individual I am today. I'm also glad to say that this is the first birthday, in recent years anyway, where I am cancer free! Who knows how long Ethel had been lurking around but I'm glad to know she's been kicked to the curb. I'm also EXTREMELY glad to report that chemotherapy is no longer a thing I'm "doing". It is also in the past. Now, I can only hope that it will remain there for ever more. I have no desire to repeat that little diddy - let me tell you.

We had to make another trip to the hospital this round for some symptom management and I'm now one of those people who cries when they enter certain rooms. Those rooms are the chemo delivery rooms. I wasn't even there to get chemo, just shots to help me feel better and I was crying. And let me tell you, it was UGLY crying. Since I have no nose hairs, my nose was a faucet. Bless Paul, he had to actually catch snot with his hands. If that isn't love, that I just don't know what it. Why do I always talk about Paul and boogers? This is totally a theme, but hopefully one that will end when my nose hairs grow back.

In part, the crying was because they blew my viens again so it was a fairly uncomfortable experience (in addition to my already being fairly uncomfortable). It's also because I'm a straight-up baby! This time the nurse blew two veins in total. From what I can tell, this chemo is rough on my veins and they are starting to resent having needles put into them. I've got two nice sized bruises to show for my efforts though. Although I don't really speak Korean I'm pretty sure I understood the sentiment when I showed up at the injection room and my nurse semi-freaked out; she too remembered how hard it had been to find a vein the last time. In the end she wasn't all that successful in getting the meds into my vein but this isn't such a big deal. With chemo it is extremely important that the chemo not go anywhere but the vien - they mess that up and you can be looking at plastic surgery to reconstruct the tissue. So of the two sets of needles this week, I'm rather grateful that the chemo ended up in the right place!

Anyway, the whole point it, I'm glad to be turing another year older. I'm grateful to be doing it while on the road to recovery and during a time when a full recovery is indeed possible. Before chemo this week we met with my surgeon and my radio-oncologist. I will have 6 and a half weeks of radiation starting on January 4th, In between now and then I have some tests and some tattoos to get done. I also will start Tamoxifen, which I am anxious to get started. The sooner I start it, the sooner 5 years of it will be over. I promise a full report following my next meeting with the people in the know - which is December 29th.

So this year, I'll celebrate my birthday with Eggs Benedicts, a trip to the Dog Cafe and the hope that the new year will bring relatively side effect free radiation.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Luck, In Perspective

I found out yesterday that someone I know recently passed away from breast cancer. She was young, like me. Obviously, this is the kind of news that causes me to do a lot of reflecting and dwelling. While it is hard to stop yourself from drawing comparisons and conclusions, the reality is I don't really know anything about her cancer - meaning, I should really stop trying to glean any wisdom from her story. That is so much easier to say than it is to do.

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't spent some time over the past 5 months thinking about luck. Yesterday and today as I've been thinking about this woman and my own relationship with cancer, I reflected on my luck. It's true that I don't feel particularly lucky to have gotten cancer but it also true that I try not to dwell on that too much. It certainly doesn't help me feel any better. Instead, I've been trying to think about all the ways that I have been lucky.

I could recount them here, but I won't. I tried and it quickly descended into pretty sappy stuff. The truth is, in many ways, a lot of the stuff that is great about my life (and there is a lot of stuff) has very little to do with the choices I've made and everything to do with chance and luck. I just happened to be born to amazing parents (who also created a pretty terrific sister). I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to meet most of my friends (who are great, by the way), and definitely to meet my husband. I've never known poverty or violence, I've had every opportunity to go to school, to travel, to play sports.

The reality is that of the 6 billion people on the planet, I'm luckier than probably 5.5 billion of them. Of course, I just made that statistic up but I'm fairly confident that it is close to accurate. Whenever I get too upset about the hand that I've been dealt I try to think about all of the amazing and positive things that have come both before and after my diagnosis. In fact, I used to think about my luck in a karmic sense. I mean, I've always been a worrier, so you can add some grains of salt to what I'm about to say but it always seemed to me that I had been too lucky. It is rare to find a person who has not dealt with adversity and honestly, my life leading up to my diagnosis had been pretty easy. So maybe this is just the universe's way of balancing the scales. Or teaching me the value in reflecting on just how lucky I have been. My rational self says that isn't the case at all but my irrational self has to wonder.

Either way, I still think the scales are tipped in my favour. Not that I mind. Regardless, there is not a more perfect time to reflect on all of the gifts you've been given in your life. So, in case I don't see you until after the holidays I wish you all a Merry Christmas and urge you to take a few seconds to think about all the luck you have this holiday season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I'm Back

I really wanted the title of this blog to be "The Bitch is Back" but then I got thinking that people's moms read this and while I can work it into a paragraph, I'm not so cool with it being the story lead. Sorry moms! Anyway, the whole point is the last entry was a downer (because I was down) but I am feeling much better. I mean, yes, I did still cry into Paul's back last night while we were going to sleep (I was having a hard time not thinking about the day I got THE NEWS) but all in all, I really do feel a lot better. Hence, the bitch (me) is back. And I mean that in the "I'm super tough, can roll with the punches, cool lady" kind of way, not the way you say it about women who are so outrageously mean you can hardly stand to be in the same room as them.

The good news is that even when chemo sucks, and boy can it suck, the sucking usually only lasts for a week. In the future, I'm also not going to tough it out and hope that it gets better. I will be going back to the hospital ASAP to get more drugs. I had to do that this last round but I waited until Friday. When I finally dragged my ass in, they gave me another burning anus shot (still burns upon application, by the way) and two other bags of stuff. I think they were more steroids and some vitamin B. It was a rough 3 hours in which I basically begged Paul to let me rip the IV out every 5-10 minutes so we could go home. I could tell he was frustrated, since the whole reason we came was for me to feel better, but I just couldn't get comfortable. God bless him, he didn't complain but instead reminded me, repeatedly, that the whole point of the trip was so I could feel better. Some of the discomfort at the hospital was definitely physical, see the photo below, but some was also mental. The brain is a funny thing and mine is beginning to hate hospitals. Next time, I'm asking for the Ativan upfront.

As you can see, they blew the vein, which might help explain some of the discomfort. I'm sure my intense fidgeting didn't help anything. In fact, I know it didn't. I was such a spectacle and I'm already a spectacle - the last thing Korean's expect in their injection room are a pair of foreigners, one of whom is bald. No, wait, we're both bald but I think Paul is a less shocking bald person.

The crazy thing is that the bruise is 11 days old. I took that picture this morning. I can tell that chemo is working because I really don't heal quickly at all. In my glory days, I think the bruise would have been mostly resolved in seven days. I've noticed it with cuts as well. I guess that is a good thing - the chemo is doing what it is supposed to. If my totally healthy cells, of which there are many, many more, are having a hard time rebuilding I can't think that any remaining cancer cells are having much luck.

In other chemo related updates, I've noticed two other weird things:

1) All of my nails are growing in a slightly purple colour. I have a line on each one about 5 mm up from the cuticle where the purple ends and the pink nail returns. It isn't super noticeable, I just look like I have cold fingers, but it is definitely there. Once this chemo business is over, I think I'm going to have to start rocking the nail polish until the nails grow out. I've tried taking pictures but they are all blurry and I can't be bothered to go find the good camera. Just trust me.

2) Hairs inside your nose are very nice to have in winter. I miss mine. My nose runs all the time now. At first I was worried I might be sick but since this is the only symptom I've had for about five weeks, I'm pretty sure it is not an illness. I wonder how long those will take to grow back? I also wonder how long it will take me to learn to always carry tissue! I had to borrow Paul's USED tissue yesterday when we were out walking. I know, I'm disgusting. Seriously! I think if he had known I would have accepted it, he never would have offered it. Ha! I'll show him. I also did a "farmer's blow" at one point and I know he felt truly glad that we were married. (In my defence, it was in a dark side street/alley area and no one was around. Is that an acceptable defence? I don't know. Don't judge me!).

Monday, December 5, 2011

I'm Having a Pity Party and You're All Invited

This last round of chemo has been the pits. I'm dreading round 4. I suppose the silver lining is, round 4 is also the last round. In my current state of self-pity, this is of little consolation. I have to do this again. And in even suckier news, I have to do this again, 5 days before Christmas. I love Christmas. However, I suspect I will not love this Christmas.

What I really want is to be at home surrounded by family and friends, eating too much, worrying about gaining weight, fretting about how cold it is, looking at a pretty tree and petting well loved but occasionally badly behaved dogs. What we want isn't always what happens. This year has made that monumentally true for me. I hope you will forgive this moment of extreme self pity. I know its rather pathetic, but there you have it.

In more optimistic news, I will ring in the New Year being done chemo. I will only have radiation and hormone therapy ahead of me. Although I gather there can be some less than nice side effects from those, they seem not to be as bad as the ones typically associated with chemo. At least, not with the amount of radiation I suspect am going to be getting. I will also ring in the New Year continuing to try and be as positive about this whole situation as I am capable. There aren't many things you can have a choice in when it comes to cancer; one of the few is how you choose to talk about and deal with cancer. I'll be the first to admit these days I've been failing on the "being positive" and "taking it in stride" front but in general, I've tried to stay as light hearted as one can about something as unfunny as cancer. I will attempt to return to that status soon, in the meantime, pretend I just said something funny instead of three paragraphs of complaining.

I guess the other good news is despite occasionally still feeling nauseous, I know I am well on my way to better. Not better enough to hit the gym tonight, but there is always tomorrow. Well enough to eat some candy though, so there's that! AND I didn't even have a nap today. Look at me, I'm all grown up!