(Current Updates Below Introduction)
When I received this card January 24 2020, it seemed like the perfect graphic to launch this page.
Yes. Cancer absolutely 1000% sucks. I read that “you don’t have cancer, until you do.” And boy, is that true. One minute, you’re living your everyday life, then overnight, the diagnosis forever splits it into Before Cancer and Treatment/Fear of Recurrence Cancer time blocks. It changes everything.
For new visitors, I have stage 3 endometrial cancer. My lymph nodes tested in December were clean, but it’s a grade 3 (aggressive) cancer so now it’s necessary to endure six chemo treatments and 6 weeks of radiation treatments spread out over 6 months.
It’s probably odd to fold a sub-blog about cancer into a blog about issues with any aging parent, but I wanted a spot to speak openly. To document. The thought of running two blogs seems ambitious right now.
As the page fills in with stories, updates, photos and random thoughts, please feel free to share yours in the Comments section on any of the blog posts below. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Wednesday I had my second chemo treatment. I had a much lower anxiety level going in because the first treatment day had gone relatively well; primarily due to the help of pre-medications including anti-nausea drugs and steroids (to prevent allergic reactions). They even do a 30 minute, slower “test” drip of the drug to ensure tolerance. The protocol to avoid side effects is impressive.
Having been through Round 1, I felt confident enough to invite a friend to come sit with me for an hour or so while Dennis went and got some lunch. It would be a nice break for him.
So the day moved forward, the pre-meds were done and the nurse returned with the Taxol (Paclitaxel) bag just after my friend arrived and Dennis said goodbye.
There was no need to test this time. She hung the bag and I continued to chat. In less than 5 minutes, however, my stomach felt queasy. And in an instant, I felt faint and said “I think something’s wrong. I think I’m going to pass out.” I started to see stars. Literally.
My friend jumped up to grab a nurse and suddenly there were several nurses surrounding me. Apparently, my face was beet red. I was having an allergic reaction. I was short of breath. They immediately stopped the drug and gave me an emergency steroid in my IV while a nurse was coaxing me to “take deep, slow breaths” which I could barely do.
I was much better within minutes. The incident was short-lived and is not that uncommon. Apparently, this can happen with the second dose as the body has been exposed or “sensitized” to it. It’s similar to food allergies. What they didn’t know, however (and why would they?) was that having an allergic reaction had become a phobia for me, ever since I had first heard about it. It was my primary concern before the first round. I was on uber high alert as the drug entered my system that first day. I think my fear touches on how fast you can deteriorate; how seconds count.
My cognitive side understood that the nurses are right there and would counteract the reaction immediately, but my emotional side couldn’t get over that wall of logic. I was kind of half-hanging on it, shaky and unsure.
They returned to start the treatment again. They call it “re-challenging.” I wasn’t sure I was up for re-challenging. I asked if there was any way we could return to the 30 minute “test” drip to ease into the process again. I suspect that request is unusual, but to their credit, they did agree to do it. I appreciated that so much.
What’s ahead? I still have four more treatments to go. And a wall I’m trying to get over.
I guess it’s time to tell the rest of the hair story. On the day that I took that photo of my thinning hair, it got even worse by nightfall. And still, I wasn’t sure about shaving it. I wasn’t against it per say, but I wasn’t embracing it either. I think that I had some romantic notion that it should fall out naturally; that I should respect the integrity of the process and see where it goes (besides the floor.)
But when I went to brush my teeth that night, I glanced in the mirror and was horrified. The hair was so straggly and the bald spot had grown. I thought that I looked like a 102-year-old woman.
I woke the next morning, brewed my coffee and began watching the news. Then suddenly, I stood up, went to get a pair of scissors and began to cut the remaining hair short. This was not a conscious plan. My brain had just caught up to reality that it was time.
I was in the middle of cutting when Dennis walked in.
“Oh.” He said. “Is the next step shaving? Do you want me to get my shaver out?”
I nodded yes. Suddenly, I wanted it gone. All of it.
Dennis said it was weird for him to shave my head. In fact, he did it in phases with the numbered combs they offer in the kit. First, it was an 1/8 of an inch, and then it was 1/16 of an inch.
I got in the shower and felt my head. It was prickly. Rough. Completely foreign. When I was done, I wrapped my head in a towel by habit and had to laugh. Those days are over for a while. I pulled it off and stared in the mirror. There was no going back. “So” I thought. “I could look at myself and see a victim, or I could look at myself and feel like I’m Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3.
I’m going to go with what’s behind door #2. Who doesn’t want to be a kick-ass heroine? Here are my various looks now:
My hair is on its last legs. I’ve been calling it dead hair walking since the day after chemo. The first photo below was taken Friday Jan. 31st. By Monday, Feb. 3rd, small clusters were coming out in the shower. I brushed my hair a few times in the course of that day, and enough hair came out to half-fill my bathroom wastebasket. And yet, it still looked pretty good. I am blessed with a thick head of hair.
By Weds. Feb. 5th, I was losing the battle. It came out in clumps in the shower and my comb continued to take out chunks with every comb-through. I just put my head over a wastebasket and watched the hair cascade into it. My husband Dennis walked in, stood by watching and teared up; not for the hair, but for me.
And it’s not just falling into the basket. I’ll be walking into the kitchen and feel something on my bare arms, like a spider web. I immediately brush it off, then realize it’s just hair falling out on its own and landing on me. I just removed a strand from my keyboard.
I’ve added a current photo. I still have some, but it looks drastically thinner.
I probably need to just shave it at this point, but I’m not quite ready.