This has been me over the last three weeks. I cry where no one can hear or see me. I wipe my tears and put myself back together. I keep going. No one hugs me or rubs my back or says meaningless platitudes because honestly, I don’t let them. As a child, I became a master of hiding my feelings. It’s not a talent I’ve lost as an adult. This week, though, I’ve cracked a lot more. The facade has broken a lot more, and it keeps happening at work during my conference period. In other words, at the worst damned time.
I have fear of missing out at work. I always have. Consequently, I work as hard as I can. I want to do better, be better. I want to learn new things, try new techniques. I expect so much of myself as a teacher, but after last week, I feel so inadequate as a teacher.
I have the wrong master’s degree. Two years ago, I earned a Master of Educational Leadership. I thought I wanted to go into administration.
I was wrong. I don’t. I belong in a classroom. I know that with every fiber of my being. I didn’t even bother to take the principal certification exam even though I made an A on the pretest my university requires of all principal test candidates. I knew by then I didn’t want to be a principal. By then, cancer had come calling and had shown me, very quickly, what I’m really meant to do.
It’s increasingly becoming the expectation that you have a master’s degree in your subject or a master’s in something with 18 hours in your subject. I need five more English classes to have 18 hours of graduate English. Five classes.
I can’t afford them right now. And, I feel an urgency to get them, to do it right now, but I can’t. We can’t afford it, and A is vehemently against me taking out any loans because we have to think about our finances.
He’s not wrong, but it’s a bitter, bitter pill I’ve been trying to swallow since Thursday night. See, Thursday I found out I’ve been accepted to an accelerated Master of English program. I can’t accept the offer. I can’t afford it.
It’s a bitter, bitter pill. I’ll apply to a few other programs that are a little cheaper, but even then…it’s doubtful.
I feel like so many opportunities are going to pass me by because I worked my tail off on the wrong master’s degree, a degree I was proud of, but now? I regret it and am so angry I made another wrong decision in my life. What a waste.
I’m going to be 40 this week. 40. At least I lived to see it, but damn, is it really all downhill from here? It feels like it, especially now. I have a mountain of debt from cancer. I have a mountain of credit debt again (see cancer debt). I have so many regrets. I’ll never be rich. I don’t want to be, but I wish things were easier. I wish they were different. I wish I were different. I wish I weren’t sad and angry, but I am.
40 years have almost passed for me. I’m angry and full of regret, so really, I guess it’s no different than any other birthday for me.
My self esteem took a nosedive on Friday for no other reason than I looked in a mirror as I changed clothes.
Scars everywhere on my torso. Port. Mastectomy. DIEP reconstruction. Oophorectomy. 7 scars. Seven vivid reminders of cancer.
Sometimes, it’s just too much, and Friday, the second anniversary of my mastectomy, the second anniversary of finding cancer in the sentinel nodes, the second anniversary of finding ER+ cancer in the breast tissue, the scars overwhelmed.
My life has changed so much over the last two years. Sometimes it catches up to me.
The integrated medicine specialist I saw yesterday who told me I’m pretty much doing everything wrong and compromising my chances of living without a occurrence also told me that they were impressed with how calmly and unemotionally I can recite my history from the past three years. I was also told the fact I can be so unemotional about it is not a good thing, and in fact, it comes off as
Here’s the reason people like me wear a mask every day: We’re tired of being hurt. We’re tired of wondering when the next shoe is going to drop. We’re tired of not knowing what to expect. We’re tired of thinking we’re doing the right thing, but as usual, it’s the wrong thing, or it’s the right thing, but it’s not right enough.
Do you honestly think I don’t feel horrible that my diet sucks so much? Do you honestly think I don’t feel like I’ve damned myself? Do you honestly think I don’t feel like I’m ruining my family’s lives because my body betrayed me at thirty seven years old? Do you honestly think I enjoy thinking EVERY SINGLE DAY that EVERY SINGLE ACHE or PAIN or FUNNY FEELING is the cancer? Do you HONESTLY think that?
And, do you honestly think I’m the one in the wrong for wearing a mask to protect myself? For guarding my heart? Do you honestly think A is wrong for it? Honestly? With everything we’ve been through the last several years, life reads like a damned Shakespearean tragedy.
December 2, 2013: Mom diagnosed with colon cancer.
December 26, 2013: Mom hospitalized for a life threatening obstruction and infection resulting in emergency surgery and a two week hospital stay.
January 2014-May 2014: Mom unable to work for months because of complications to colon cancer treatment and surgeries.
June 2014-August 2014: Mom recovers and continues chemo.
September 2014-May 2015: Mom has more surgeries from colon cancer and treatments. Mom has every side effect or complication possible, including resulting in a wound vac.
July 2015: I decided to follow my heart back into teaching. A accepted a new, very challenging position. Both of us excited at the possibilities.
August 2015: Breast cancer. Stage 2A. IDC. HER2+.
September 2015-January 2016: TCHP chemo regimen. Private family emergency occurs. I completely and earn my master’s degree while undergoing chemo.
February 2016: Mastectomy. SURPRISE! The cancer is in your lymph nodes AND it’s ER+. No HER2 cancer left behind.
February 2016: Started Tamoxifen. Continued Herceptin.
March 2016: Worst headache I’ve ever had triggers a brain CT. Began radiation. Still Herceptin’ ing. Brain CT normal -Thank all the things.
April 2016: Finished radiation. Still Herceptin’ ing.
May 2016-June 2016: Recovered from radiation while getting Herceptin every three weeks.
July 2016: DIEP flap reconstruction. Still Herceptin ‘ing.
August 2016: Returned to work less than three weeks after DIEP. Still Herceptin ‘ing.
September 2016: Last Herceptin. 1 year scans. NED.
October 2016: Complications from DIEP reconstruction.
November 2016: Dad starts complaining of headaches. Move into new house.
December 2016: Settle into new house.
January 2016-February 2017: Dad complains of headaches.
March 2017: Dad has a seizure. I have an oophorectomy on A’s birthday.
April 2017-June 2017 Dad’s health deteriorates. He has a brain tumor. Looks benign. Still has seizures.
July 2017: Roadtrip for me and the kids. A accepts a new position and changes jobs.
August 2017: Dad has brain surgery resulting in loss of function on left side and begins intensive rehab.
September 2017: 2 year scans. NED. Dad moved to skilled nursing.
October 2017: Dad moved home with in house therapy. Requires 24/7 care.
November 2017: Headaches for me scaring me to death. A develops bronchitis. No improvement in Dad.
In this same stretch of time, A’s uncle died, his mom had surgery, his dad lost his job and found a new one, his brother broke up with his fiancee, his sister graduated from college, his grandparents have had health scares, particularly his 90 year old grandfather who lives over a thousand miles away from us.
It does not remotely touch family stress, daily stress, or anything specific to jobs. This does not remotely touch the stress of living with someone who’s had cancer. Caretakers endure enormous stress. If you think for one minute my cancer and fears don’t touch A, you’re wrong. He’s like me -stoic. What else can we be? We have two young children. Cancer yanked our best laid plans for our lives out from under us. And, because he guards his heart as zealously as I guard mine, we’re wrong.
When I was little, around 10 years old, a family member, in anger, told me something I’ve never forgotten or forgiven myself for: I don’t know when to shut up and because I don’t, I make things so much worse for everyone around me. Imagine how it feels now because I’ve had cancer. Imagine the guilt I feel every…single…day.
I cry every single day. EVERY day. I cry because I’m scared these headaches mean brain mets. I cry because I blame myself anytime A has a bad day. I cry because I fear what will happen to my children if they watch me die from cancer. I cry because I had cancer.
It is what it is.
I don’t know how to be any different than who I am. I don’t ask A to be any different than he is. Cancer changed us. I’m sorry my cancer changed me and changed him. But, it did. I can’t fix it. I can’t fix cancer. I. Can’t. Fix. It.
I’ve spent the last four years constantly trying to put out fires that just get bigger, get worse, get scarier, and I’ve done it all with the facade of “This is fine. Everything is fine.”
Last night, a friend sent me this picture message:
My track record is 100%. Yesterday sucked. There’s no kinder, nicer, cleaner way of saying it. It just sucked. Today, honestly, isn’t that great either because I have a nagging heaviness in my head around my left temple, and it’s scaring me. I didn’t wake up with it, I’m not nauseous or dizzy or seeing spots. It’s not progressive. It’s none of the things I’ve Googled when I Google “what do breast cancer brain mets feel like?” Here’s the rub: I have to Google that because…I had a cancer. I had cancer. At thirty seven. I. Had. Cancer. And, as I was told yesterday, if I don’t start eating better and exercising and losing weight and ALL the things I’ve been told since I was diagnosed, I’m upping my risk of dying from breast cancer.
You wonder why I wear a mask? Why I guard my heart? Why A is stoic?
Facebook On This Day popped up a memory from two years ago today that I would like to forget. I had just had chemo 3, and as typical for my chemo cocktail, by day 5 post treatment, I didn’t feel great, but chemo 3 was different. By then, Taxotere, carboplatin, perjeta, and Herceptin had begun building up in my system. My counts were lowered. I caught a cold. Perjeta can have side effects on digestive systems and skin, and boy, did it on mine. Three days post treatment, the digestive effects were in full swing, and the medicine was barely keeping them manageable. Five days post treatment, I woke up with my right thigh covered in red, angry, painful pustules. I slapped bandages on them and went to work, making sure my other medicines were in my bag. Six days post chemo 3, I woke up with a scratchy voice, still painful skin on my right thigh with more pustules, and a new embarrassing side effect, an extremely painful one, too, related to the digestive issues. I went to work anyway. I slapped on my make up, my wig, my fake smile, a soft pair of gray pants, a grey sweater, a scarf, and no one knew anything was wrong…except my assistant principal who’s known me for nearly fifteen years. She side eyed me all day. Then…day 7 happened. In my sleep, I’d scratched my thigh. I’d opened some of the pustules. They were angrier, redder, more painful. My stomach couldn’t take anything but water. The other digestive side effect, the embarrassing one, was worse. I sat down on the bathroom floor and sobbed. Against A’s wishes, I got up off the floor, I put bandages on, I pulled on a pair of soft jeans, a navy blue sweater, a scarf, minimal make up, my wig, and my brown boots, and I went to work. I made it until second period. I had to walk my class to an assembly. I made it down my hall to the main hall, and I just couldn’t walk any farther. It just hurt too much. No matter what I did, friction hit the painful places. Skin to skin. Jean fabric to skin. Bandages to skin. My skin, all of it, just hurt. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be -the cancer patient who breezed through chemo without missing work or sliding on their obligations. I couldn’t do it. I leaned on the wall and burst into tears. My AP who had been side eyeing me for days and my head principal saw me. Both came to me immediately, concern etched on their faces. They surrounded me, and I told them I was ok, just tired -my usual answer to “How are you?” I really don’t believe anyone asks that question for any reason but polite speech. Fortunately, neither believed me, and even as my face burned red and my skin ached, they got me to tell the entire tale. They sent me home and made me promise to call my doctor. And, I did. I called Dr. O. I sent her pictures, at her request. She put me on very strong antibiotics, some skin cream, and made me an appointment with a colon specialist for the next day. I missed work that Friday to sleep, to let the antibiotics work, to let my body try and heal, and to see the colon doctor. By that next Monday, I finally, finally, felt better. I went back to school. The antibiotics worked their magic, the colon doctor worked some magic, and I still felt typically terrible, tired with a bad taste in my mouth, but at least my skin didn’t hurt as badly.
I needed people to look out for me. I needed people at work who truly, deeply cared for me, who cared enough to look beyond my mask and to see I was not ok. Sending me home that day, making me promise to call Dr. O, probably saved me from a hospital visit. I didn’t realize the skin problem was as bad as it was. I did though when I picked my antibiotics up and the pharmacist explained them to me. I didn’t realize how close I was to a systemic infection, but I knew how devastating one was to a person with a compromised immune system like mine was at the time.
I needed people who cared enough to look beyond my mask, to break my code, and they did…they do. They are some of the few who care enough to try. For that, I am grateful.
Today is the first day in five days I have not woken up with a headache. It’s been a dull headache, not often in the same place. Yesterday, it was my left temple. Day before, it was around the top of my head. Day before that, it was at the base of my head and top of my neck. I bet anyone can guess what my first thought was -brain mets. I’ve taken Excedrin Migraine on and off all week.
I woke up this morning without the headache. A’s been very sick most of this week. He has bronchitis, and the cough he has is ridiculous. It kept me up most of last Sunday night and Monday night. I slept upstairs on the air mattress on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I didn’t sleep well there either. That mattress is too hard. Last night, A insisted I sleep in our room. So, before I went to bed, because I still had that dull headache living in my temple, I took 2 Aleve…and, for the first time in a very long time, I took my anxiety medicine. It’s not something I take regularly. I have it for an as needed basis. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been fighting a low level panic attack for awhile. Two women I follow on Twitter and Facebook with Stage 4 breast cancer died this week, both young women. Neither with the kind of breast cancer I had nor diagnosed at the same stage or grade I had. Still, every breast cancer death I hear of hits me hard.
It reminds me I’m always one blood test, one scan away from another cancer diagnosis.
The headache I’ve had kept me in a low level of panic. What if it’s brain mets? That was my question every morning. And, yes, I Googled symptoms of brain mets. Nausea. Vomiting. Progressive headache. Weakness on one side. Loss of appetite. Vision disturbances. Distorted sense of taste or smell. Seizures. I don’t have any of those. The headache isn’t progressive. It’s been the same every day until today when I woke up with out it.
You know, before cancer, I would attribute a headache like this to Texas weather. Our weather in DFW this week has been stereotypical Texas weather. We’ve gone from a cold front with sleet to record setting highs to normal fall weather and back to summer weather. It’s so stupid. Before cancer, I would curse Texas weather messing with air pressure and all that. But, I had cancer, so every ache and pain gets side eyed. Is it a recurrence? Am I okay?
My head doesn’t ache today. It does feel full…a little pressure. But, it doesn’t hurt.
I’m still side eyeing it.
I fear normal aches and pains. I’m nearly 40. I know there are going to be aches and pains, but dammit, I had cancer. That makes everything suspicious, and I freaking HATE it.
Either Sunday evenings or Monday mornings, lately, it’s Monday mornings, I fill my pill holder with the pill I need to survive, the pill I need to help my allergies and stop bone pain, the two pills I need to counter my mostly uncontrollable hot flashes, and the pill I take to combat hair loss caused by the pill I need to survive.
Five pills. Every. Single. Day.
I’ve forgotten to take them exactly once. That happened when I switched to arimidex. I had a panic attack in the hospital after my DIEP reconstruction when my plastic surgeon told me I couldn’t take my tamoxifen because of a potential side effect with bleeding. I made my plastic surgeon tell me every single day I was in the hospital why I couldn’t take it. He ended up bringing me literature to read about it. I still called Dr. O, who assured me the few days I would be off tamoxifen were negligible because of its long half-life.
I’m positive if someone told me to stop taking these pills, I would panic. I know it can’t stop the cancer from returning if it’s determined to return, but it’s the best chance I have, along with zometa, which I still haven’t heard if my insurance has approved it, to keep my body an inhospitable place for ER+ cancer to reside.
That and losing fifty pounds. And drinking more water. And exercising.
I have the day off today. My house is quiet. AJ and S are out with A. I chose to stay home because I have a crazy busy week ahead of me. I see Dr. H tomorrow for my six month check up with her. It’s strange, but appointments with her don’t cause my anxiety to rise even though she’s the one who told us exactly what kind of cancer I faced and what my treatments would be. She’s the one who told me my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.
She’s also the one who came to see me early the morning after preforming my mastectomy because she said she needed to see me. She said she knew I would be heading down the worst case scenario train in my mind and she wanted to talk me through everything she knew at the time. She’s the one who told me that the cancer in my lymph nodes and lymph channels was not necessarily a death sentence.
She’s also the one I call, most of the time, when something isn’t right. A new lump. A strange place on the skin. She sees me almost immediately. She’s the one who sent me for imaging last year when she wasn’t 100% sure a lump in my left foob was fat necrosis and asked the radiologist performing the ultrasound to tell me exactly what he saw because she would not send me home knowing nothing because I was terrified. It was fat necrosis.
She’s the one who Dr. B, my longtime OBGYN, sent me to see after I asked her who she would see. She said Dr. H’s name and said, “MY doctor.”
With Dr. H, I don’t feel like a patient, a statistic. I’m a person with a name and a need, and she knows it. Her whole office staff is that way. I’m sure tomorrow my anxiety will flare, and I’m sure walking into Methodist tomorrow afternoon will be hard because I pass by radiation oncology to get to breast oncology, and as wonderful as the radiology oncology department was to me, radiation is a level of hell I never knew existed.
I relive my diagnosis every single day. If it’s not the pills, it’s the doctor’s appointments. If it’s not the doctor’s appointments, it’s the news and social media. If it’s not the GOP destroying health care in America, it’s something.
Every single day reminds me of what I’ve lost and what I stand to lose, and the hell of it is, there is nothing, really, I can do except take the pills and go to the doctor’s appointments. I could do everything right and the cancer could come back. I could
do everything wrong and live to be 101.
I’m a pawn in the chess game of Fate. Forever in limbo, forever reminded of what cancer has done, can do, and might do. Forever wondering what the next move will be.
I’m constantly, continuously tired. I’ve told all my doctors, and they all agree it’s a combination of several things- insomnia, back to back to back to back to back surgeries (I had five -two major, two minor, one sort of minor- surgeries in a one year span…I’m still not a year out from my last surgery), a solid year of cancer treatments, radiation, and the whole PTSD resulting from diagnosis, treatments, surgeries, and follow ups. Every so often, it catches up to me in a major way.
Yesterday afternoon, I decided to lie down. It was 4 pm, and I figured I could take a quick nap before going to dinner and the football game. I woke up at 6:41…a lot later than I planned because that 6:41 came this morning.
Y’all, it’s Pinktober, and I get it makes people feel good to donate or help out breast cancer awareness, but the thing is…we’re all aware of breast cancer. What we aren’t doing, what we’re failing at with horrific and deadly consequences is finding new treatment options, finding cures -breast cancer is more than one type of cancer, providing support to those living with breast cancer and those living after cancer treatment, and realizing the happy narrative of breast cancer awareness month fails in so many ways.
There is an underlying arrogance of breast cancer awareness, if you’re aware, you won’t get cancer or if you do, it’ll be caught early. Fair enough on early detection, but early detection doesn’t save anyone from Stage 4 -one in three diagnosed at Stages 1-3 go on develop Stage 4. 40,000 will die THIS YEAR from Stage 4 breast cancer, the only kind of breast cancer that kills. That number HAS NOT CHANGED since the birth of Pinktober.
We have to do more than be aware of breast cancer. Awareness is not changing the statistics of survival, particularly for Stage 4. Research is. Clinical trials are. Doctors are. Science is. Advocacy is. METAvisor is. Stand Up to Cancer is. The American Cancer Society is. The National Cancer Institute is. Breast Cancer Research Foundation is.
Most of the time, lately, my anger towards the fact I developed breast cancer at 37 years old is on a slow simmer, but like any simmer, it can become a boil very quickly. Pinktober has my anger on boil 24/7. Breast cancer is more than a month and more than a pink ribbon. Breast cancer is millions of women and men. Breast cancer is 40,000 funerals and memorial services a year. Breast cancer is treatments year-round. Breast cancer is short term planning. Breast cancer is bankruptcy. Breast cancer is a game to politicians. Breast cancer is too many people’s reality.
I slept nearly 11 hours last night not because I was out late or had a hard day or week or because of any fun sort of reason. I slept 11 hours because I had breast cancer.
That’s my reality. That’s my January through December. It’s not just a rah-rah, feel good, pink-all-the-things time. It’s my life.
*This is a raw post. I wrote this on Sept. 28, 2017. I published it for a little bit, but then I deleted it. I’m posting it now because I’m better with what I wrote.*
Two years ago today, I sat at Baylor Dallas Charles A Sammons Cancer Center from 8:00 am until 7:00 pm undergoing my first of six TCHP chemo treatments. I sat in a private infusion room, thanks to a former student, and I graded essays, pretending I didn’t care that poison dripped into my body as long as the poison killed the other poison growing inside me.
I cared. I was scared. I was terrified. I acted like it didn’t matter. I didn’t want special treatment. I wanted to be normal.
Cancer isn’t normal. Nothing about life with cancer or after cancer is normal, and screw that whole happy, cheery “find a new normal!” Chemo and radiation and surgeries and pills and infusions and constant surveillance check ups should not be normalized.
See, that’s where I get angry about our society and breast cancer. Pinktober approaches where suddenly, everything is pink because we need to be aware of breast cancer. I don’t need a reminder to be aware of breast cancer. I’m a freaking walking human advertisement for breast cancer awareness.
I find it hard to believe anyone in the US is unaware of breast cancer. What I find easy to believe is that few know that 40,000 people die of breast cancer every year. Did you know that number hasn’t changed since Pinktober began? What I find easy to believe is that few know Stage 4 breast cancer’s, the only breast cancer you can die from, research is severely underfunded. Did you know Komen designates little of the money it raises to Stage 4 research? What I find easy to believe is that few know there are many subtypes of breast cancer and treatment options for some subtypes are limited. Did you know there are no immune therapies or targeted therapies for triple negative? What good is awareness of breast cancer if we’re not doing more to fund research, find treatments, and provide support to those with breast cancer?
You want me to be happy I had breast cancer? Have several seats. Over the last two years, I’ve been told I had a good cancer, that I got new breasts out of the deal, that I’ll beat it.
No cancer is good, I was perfectly happy with my real breasts, and what if I don’t? Stop placing unrealistic pressures on those with cancer. It happens to anyone through no fault of their own, and that’s why I despise the battle metaphor of cancer. No one loses to cancer. Cancer isn’t defeated because someone fought harder. Cancer doesn’t look at someone and go “Oh damn, maybe I should’ve picked a different body because this person is tough.” Stop it. It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. The battle metaphor is all about making someone without cancer feel good, feel like they’re being encouraging, feel like they’re being supportive. Ok, fair enough, but look at the other side. If you tell your friend or family member they’re going to beat cancer and they don’t, you really want to put the shame of losing on someone who died from cancer? Really? Few things get to me as a person recovering from breast cancer like Pinktober and the battle metaphor.
I still don’t understand why this happened, what lesson I’m supposed to learn, and why I should be grateful this happened. I’m bitter, I’m anxious, and I’m paranoid because my cancer could come back at anytime no matter what I do. I can take all the medicines, do all the exercises, eat all the healthy food, and it can still come back. So, yeah, I’m not more gracious, I’m not more humble (I’m humbled by my friends and family and the sisterhood of longtime friends and my coworkers because they care about me as a person, not just a person recovering from cancer), and I’m not more patient. I’m not a better person.
I’m none of those things the pink myth of Pinktober perpetrates. That is one of my many failings, I suppose. Or, I guess I just didn’t learn my lesson, something I’ve heard on and off my whole life when I’ve gone in a different direction than the one I was supposed to choose.
Funny thing, though, those choices, those different directions led me to A even though, on the surface, we had little in common, yet he, in very real ways, changed me for the better as much as he says I changed him for the better, and that choice led us to S and AJ. Those choices led me to UNT where I earned both my Bachelor of Arts in English and my Master of Education. Those choices led me into teaching. Those choices led me to my current campus where the love, support, friendship, and sense of family is unmatched.
I think today, knowing today is the day I sat for eight hours receiving TCHP for the first time is the second of the three hardest cancerversaries -the day I got the call, the day I started TCHP, and the day I had my mastectomy.
I’m glad, ecstatic to be NED right now. I want to stay NED. But, I also want more treatments, more research, more support. I’m alive because of the research from the American Cancer Society that led to Herceptin. I’m alive because of the research from Genentech that led to Perjeta. I’m alive because of taxotere created from the bark of the yew tree thanks to the research of Pierre Potier, and I’m alive because Michigan State University discovered carboplatin. Almost all components of my treatment plan were discovered in the last fifteen years. I’m incredibly grateful for their discoveries, but we have to do more.
As Pinktober approaches, I implore you to think before you pink. Ask where the money goes.
Cancer is hard. Fighting it, living with it, living after it. No cancer is easy.
I had no intention of writing half of what I’ve written tonight. I was going to just write that today’s the two year anniversary of my first chemo treatment. But, thinking back on this day two years ago, I remember myself sitting in that infusion chair wearing jeans and a maroon shirt with long hair and grading papers. I remember getting up the next morning and going to work, finding get well cards from my classes. I remember the blinding headache I woke up with, the horrid taste in my mouth, and the strange red rash on my chest. I remember acting normal. I didn’t want pity or sympathy. I just wanted to be.
I guess that’s why it’s hard for me to quantify this cancerversary. Without it, I’d be dead. Because of it, I’m a different person.
My phone rang at 2:20 this afternoon. The screen said Texas Oncology. Today is Tuesday. Today is the day Dr. O would call if something showed up on the scan.
I didn’t like seeing that caller ID on my phone. My heart raced, but I knew it could also be Dr. O’s nurse with referral or medication information. For a split second, I thought of sending the call to voicemail. But, I didn’t. I answered the phone as I walked out of my classroom.
The call was to update me about the referral (it’s in progress). After the nurse finished giving me the update, I told her my first thought was this call had something to do with the scan since today is Tuesday. She went quiet for a minute before saying, “Nope…scan looks good. Nothing on it. We’ll rescan in a year.”
I thanked her, ended the call, and bent over, hands to knees just to breathe for a minute or two. I might have stayed that way longer if not for a junior who saw me in the hall and asked me if I was ok. I plastered on my smile, told her everything was fine, and I went back to my classroom.
I posted my news on Twitter.
I planned my lessons for the next grading cycle.
I came home.
The kids came home.
S did homework.
AJ went to a friend’s house for a bit and then went to karate.
S and I window shopped for Halloween.
I picked up AJ.
We came home.
S drew and watched TV.
The kids said their good nights.
The house grew quiet.
The daily routine of family life, of my life, a daily routine I cherish even when it makes me crazed, a daily routine I would not have without Dr. O and the American Cancer Society (Herceptin).
I have a choice, the same choice I’ve had for over two years: be ruled by my fear or rule my fear.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I know, at this moment, I’m profoundly grateful to be stable with no detectable amount of active cancer in my body. I know that could change at any time, or I may remain no evidence of disease for the rest of my life.
I’m not ready to commit to saying I’m done being afraid. I’ve had cancer. One of my nightmares came true. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done being afraid of it. What I can commit to is finding a better way to cope. I deserve that.
No grandiose promises, no unsustainable commitments.
…said Dr. O to me today as I sat with her in the exam room while tears ran down my face.
The good news: my blood work was mostly normal (dehydration and kidney function don’t play well together).
The bad news: I had a wreck as I left the cancer center. I’m fine. My car…not so much. It’s drivable, but the front driver’s side is not ok. As I was leaving the cancer center’s underground garage, I hit a concrete column. I didn’t see it. I wasn’t going fast, so that’s good, but my car is messed up.
I’ll get the results of my scans sometime next week if there’s something to discuss. Otherwise, I go back in 16 weeks…unless…
Dr. O wants me to start on Zometa. She said studies show it significantly decreases the rate of reoccurrence for ER+ cancer. I told her I’ll do whatever I need to do. So, she’s putting in the preauthorization paperwork. When it goes through, if it’s approved, I’ll have Zometa infusions twice a year for the next several years.
We talked about how crippling my anxiety has been for the last two weeks as this appointment crept closer. She said the same thing the cancer counselor said -I’m traumatized from everything I’ve been through over the last two years. She’s putting through another request to my insurance to approve me to see the cancer psychologist at Baylor. Apparently one of the cancer psychologists deals only with breast cancer survivors. Dr. O wants me to see this psychologist. I agreed. Whatever I have to do to be happier and less anxious is worth it.
Dr. O also clarified some things for me. I thought because there was cancer left behind when I had my mastectomy that meant I did not have a complete pathological response (cPr) to TCHP. Googling led me to believe since I did not, as I understood it, have a cPr, my risk of reoccurrence was as high as 60-70%.
I was wrong. Really wrong.
Dr. O told me I did have a cPr to TCHP. None of the HER2 was left. She said that’s a cPr. She said if HER2 had still been there, my after surgery treatment would have been vastly different. Dr. O told me with a cPr from TCHP, the reoccurrence rate could be as low as 5% for the HER2. As for the ER, she said the only other thing, medically, I can do is Zometa. I’m doing everything else.
So, as long as my scans are clear, I’ll see her in 16 weeks and will start Zometa infusions as soon as we get insurance approval.
I felt such relief when I left her office. It lasted for about twenty minutes. Then, my car decided to become friendly with a concrete column. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So, now I wait, hoping for no news this coming week since no news means clear scans yet hoping for news in the coming weeks so I can start on Zometa.
I couldn’t have a better oncologist. I’m so grateful Dr. O took me as patient. Tonight, I’m going to bed, and I’m going to sleep peacefully.