OK, so my LAST BIG CHEMO treatment was Monday, October 8th. It's been almost 3 weeks and I still haven't bothered to post. I apologize. It would seem that it was T.H.E. most important thing in my world and, at the time it was, but I just wasn't feeling "it".
I want to be celebrating. It is a big deal to get the big stuff over with but I was dreading the aftermath. They warn you that some of the side effects are cumulative, especially the fatigue, but I really couldn't have imagined how tired I would feel. And the issues with my mouth - potential mouth sores and the way that my taste buds were being ruined - were only getting worse for me. I couldn't find drinks that I enjoyed and that would satisfy my thirst. Food has tasted terrible for so long and I try to find what seems most enjoyable at the time, but it seems to change each time.
Thankfully I have also celebrated my last Neulasta injection and the last of the steroids that I take before, during and after big chemo. Both of these medications are an important part of the process, but they both certainly don't do much for me and my ability to push through each treatment. The Neulasta did it's job during each round of chemo. My white blood cell counts stayed at a level which allowed me to continue treatments and I also managed to avoid any major illnesses despite a non-existent immune system. And the steroids, well, I don't know exactly what they did for me, aside from contribute to assisting me pack on almost 20 lbs during the last 18 weeks. I believe they help reduce some of the potential side effects, so I guess they too did their job, because all and all, I think it went OK. Not great. But OK.
Chemo #5 really kept me down for a while. And it was just a hard time for me. I lost my friend, Wendy, to breast cancer on Sept. 22 and I just wasn't handling that very well. I spent a lot of time being alone. Some might think that is a terrible idea. And as someone who knows the "before-cancer-Kim", I would agree that staying home most days and not being particularly social sounds like a bad plan. But I realized that I needed some time to myself.
I also realized that I was heading down a slippery slope and was glad to get out the weekend just before my last chemo. I enjoyed some time with friends on October 7th to walk in the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event here in Knoxville. I had some friends join me and it wasn't too bad. I wasn't breaking any records, but the sun was shining and I walked a 5K, which was probably more than I had walked during the previous 30 days. It was a great event and I really enjoyed talking with other breast cancer survivors as well as a man and his daughter who were walking in memory of his wife (her mother) who had passed away 3 years ago from a brain tumor (glioblastoma just like my mom). He was so kind and his daughter was just too sweet though my heart broke for her because you could still feel the loss she was working through even 3 years later. I enjoyed the conversations with other people who "get it" although I felt like the only bald female in attendance that day, but was encouraged by so many to stay strong. Here's my "team" The Breast Cancer Booty Kickers:
And, for the BIG news...[drum roll please]... I found out last week that I WILL be receiving radiation therapy (RT). There is much to say about this, but I'm going to have to save it for another post. The short version is that I was told having the second surgery (the axillary dissection) meant avoiding radiation. I was NOT given the information related to the statistics of having the radiation vs not having it, especially when one is pre-menopausal. There is a lot of GREAT information about radiation on the breastcancer.org website...here. My doctor explained that RT will greatly reduce the chance of recurrence for me, especially in about 10-14 years from now. This is really a no-brainer for me as I am still "young" at 43 and, more importantly, have three children who are not even 5 years old yet, so there are still many more memories to be shared with them.
So yes, I start radiation soon. Next week is my "planning appointment" where they make the mold for my arm which will allow me to stay VERY still during the process each day. Oh, did I mention that I will have RT Monday through Friday for a total of 33 treatments. I expect that I should complete the treatments just before Christmas. Each one is supposed to last about 15 minutes or so. During the planning appointment, they will also determine exactly where they will direct the "beam" in order kill any remaining cancer cells, or at least that's how I like to think of it. The location of my tumor was some cause for concern as it was so close to the chest wall (though, according to the pathology report, there was a clean margin albeit ever so slight) and very close to the internal mammary nodes. The RT will deliver these damaging rays of energy (hopefully) to the exact locations that might pose a threat.
I wasn't even aware of the internal mammary nodes nor did I realize that my tumor was so close to them. Apparently there are varying opinions as to whether RT is effective when targeted at these internal mammary nodes and there are risks. The main one for me is related to the radiation therapy in general as it puts me at an even greater risk for lymphedema. Blah! There can be minimal lung or rib damage as well. There should not be any risk for heart damage as it shouldn't be in the way. The other issues are related to the skin - burns, rashes, darkening of the skin. I can only hope that I am able to remember and keep up with the skin care regimen that they recommend in order to avoid any skin problems. [My chemo-brain and I are at odds as I have trouble remembering many things these days.]
Anyway, I apologize for my delayed post and for being MIA, but I just can't seem to find the words to write. I struggle to stay positive, upbeat and focused. My mind plays tricks on me. My body is weary after all of the toxic chemicals have been delivered. I AM thankful. VERY thankful for those drugs as I see them as a way to be sure that this breast cancer has truly had it's booty kicked. But I am more tired than I have been and than I expected. And I really have trouble just finding anything to hold my interest. My stick-to-it-iveness has blown out the window. I can't seem to get things done. My social contacts are limited. During the last couple of rounds of chemo, I often didn't bother answering the phone because I didn't have the energy or desire to talk.
Right now, I'm also struggling when I go out in public (not chemo or dr appts, but school meetings, the store, etc) because I feel like an outsider. I am sick of not having hair. I'm tired of hats, scarves, etc. I'm over just having one boob. I actually went for a fitting and got a prosthesis. Yes folks, it's a fake boob. And not the surgically implanted kind, but rather one that gets stuffed into a bra. A bra that I don't love because it is big and strappy and I feel completely unattractive and unfeminine in it. Did I mention that I'm sick of not having hair? I find myself staring at hair when I'm in public. Sometimes I forget that I don't have it and then realize that people are looking at me "like that" because I don't have hair and they are trying to process it. I catch myself staring at their hair and thinking they should be in a Pantene commercial. I don't know that I'll ever let it grow out to be long again. I just want enough to make me feel like a woman and also enough so that I don't HAVE to wear a hat or scarf (because sometimes it is just too hot or they just get in the way and it's a pain to find one to match an outfit).
The hair is growing though. Lots of fuzz on my head and we are still trying to determine if it is a lighter color than it was prior to chemo. I've been told it could come in curly but that does not seem to be the case as it stands straight up but is still not long or heavy enough to be smoothed over to one side. There is still lots of bare scalp, mind you, but progress is being made and I am truly thankful.
I apologize for being less than perky with my post. This is the reason for my delay. I've been taking some time "off" to just avoid writing and admitting to people how I really feel. Usually I hear people tell me how strong, brave and/or positive I am through all of this. But I don't feel that way. I just feel like a person trying to get to the end of this. I want to feel like it is behind me and I'm safe. But I wonder if I will ever really feel "safe" again?
When I am in the chemo room surrounded by people who really do know what I am going through (and often they are going through MUCH worse), I am at my best. I like to chat and visit and be me. It's about the closest to "pre-cancer-me" but I have realized that I am not who I was pre-cancer. I'm very different. Hopefully I will eventually become stronger, happier, more thankful, more generous, more productive, more loving, kinder and gentler. I feel like I am completely the opposite of all of those things today, but it comes-and-goes. My body is tired. My brain is tired. My spirit is tired. I know that I'm still waiting to find out how God can use this for His purpose. He can. I just have to let Him. But I need a little time to be weepy and deal with the big things that have happened so far. I'm going to turn this around....just give me a little more time and send up a few more prayers, if you don't mind.
Thanks and peace.
P.S. I have another team of Breast Cancer Booty Kickers joining me this Saturday, October 27th, in Knoxville for the Race for the Cure. It is another 5K raising money to help find a cure for this stupid breast cancer thing. Feel free to join the team or donate to the cause. Here are some links:
Link to my personal page with Komen Knoxville Race for the Cure
Link to my team page, The Breast Cancer Booty Kickers, for the Komen Knoxville Race for the Cure