Although I have gone through some very challenging moments in the last few weeks, nothing prepared me for the visit I had with my oncologist a few days ago. Honestly, I don’t think anything could have. It is what it is. It turns out that chemotherapy is no fun. I’m shocked.
It was my most dreaded trip to any physician I have ever had in my life because this was the appointment where I would be discussing my chemotherapy treatment with my oncologist in detailed and concrete terms. I would come out of that appointment with a start date and that was petrifying. I am healing well from my mastectomy, and it was time to talk chemo. They sure don’t waste any time. I walked down the long hallway (it felt as if it had grown a mile since I was last there) to the lobby of the Cancer Center and I told my mom that I really felt as though I was going to pass out. I did not want to be there. I did not want to face the realities of what was about to happen to my body. I just wanted to get out of there. I wanted to turn around and run back to my old life.
My oncologist sat down with us and stated that he first wanted to go over the pathology results from my surgery and then we would discuss my chemotherapy treatment. He explained to me that my tumor size was a three on a one to three scale. Basically, it was the most aggressive type of tumor there can be. Go big or go home I suppose. He also explained to me that my cancer is stage three when my doctors and I had previously thought it was stage two. He continued to break down other aspects of my path report and I digested some portions and not others. My mind was on the chemo. And then it was time.
My oncologist explained what the chemo treatment will entail and that it will span over approximately four months. He named the drugs I will be given: doxorubicin hydrochloride, cyclophosphamide, and paclitaxel. Tears silently streamed down my face. The plan was being mapped out. The risks and side effects were being listed in full force. Hair loss, weight loss, appetite loss, change in taste, aches, pains, bleeding, mouth sores, allergic reactions, swelling of the ankles, hands, and feet, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, bone pain, muscle pain, joint pain, sweating, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills…
I would need to have a port. I do not want a port. I had been pretty adamant about that one up to this point. I guess sticking a device in my chest is where I draw the line. Who knew? He explained to me that he had never given a patient with my type of cancer this type of treatment without a port but it was not impossible. Oh, but he highly recommended me having a port. Sure buddy, I am just going to go against your recommendation that you give highly. I know best. He discussed how hard the chemo is on the veins. Also, there are the potential issues with the IV and the drugs leaking out (what??!!?!). Basically, if the drugs leak, it can burn your skin severely and some patients even require skin grafts after all is said and done. I listened. Sort of. After he was finished I stubbornly told him how much I still did not want a scar from the port. I then proceeded to explain to the highly-respected-cancer-specialist-physician how I thought his team could administer the drug intravenously without harming my skin. I had a plan. Maybe they just had not thought it all through. I guess I became a doctor last week. Did I fail to mention that? Oh wait, no. I became a lawyer. My mistake.
Friends and family of mine have referred to the scars as “battle scars” as if that type of rock star description makes it way better. Well, it doesn’t. I understand they are just trying to help, but I don’t want any more scars. I have enough.
I am sure some people will wonder why I am so concerned about a port scar after I went through a double mastectomy three weeks ago. It seems like chump change compared to that, right? When my oncologist was describing the pros about getting a port I felt as though we weren’t really connecting regarding my concern about the scar and that was frustrating. In the long term, yes, I am sure it will help me, hopefully save my life. In the abstract, and from a logical standpoint I fully understand that. But as a young woman, my concern is on that scar that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. One that will stare back at me each time I look in the mirror. I just want my body left alone! I DO NOT need more indications that I had breast cancer. Call me crazy, but my thoughts easily wander to my wedding and I get so saddened by the thought that one day it will be my wedding day and I fear that all I will see when I look in the mirror when I put on my (Vera Wang) dress (fingers crossed) is that scar. I can’t wear a turtleneck to my wedding. Ok, ok, who are we kidding? I could probably pull that off.
A few days later I was watching Oprah’s Lifeclass (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). I have become über reflective these days. The topic was about living in the moment. Instead of letting life and all of its chaos deprive us of actually allowing ourselves to participate in our own lives, we must actively stop and consciously decide to be present in the moment we are living right now. One facet of the show was the story of a burn victim and her journey and I started to feel absolutely ridiculous. This young woman was in an airplane crash and subsequent explosion and survived. Talk about rock star. She has her own share of “battle scars.” They just so happen to be burns from the explosion that cover approximately 80% of her body. She has four children and is in constant pain. Her burns are so bad that she cannot pick up and physically comfort her own children. And here I am worried about a port scar? In the words of Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, “Really??” Wow, Abby. Just wow. Oprah would be so disappointed. I am not belittling myself here, but my eyes were opened and I thank God for that. People are not the scars they have and shame on me for ever allowing myself to go there.
Although I have had the inescapable moments of facing my own mortality through this whole process, I realized something last night that really stuck with me that I feel compelled to share: you don’t have to face a life threatening illness to change your approach to life. Sure, this process has opened my eyes and I will never be the same. The Abby that I am trying to run back to is never going to be there again. There are things about me that are transforming, my view of the world is forever altered, and fears of mine are evaporating. I am exceedingly thankful for each breath I get to take, and each new experience I encounter. Many days I look outside and delight in the fact that I get to witness another fall, my favorite season. The vibrant colors are so lovely and that nostalgic, autumn scent in the air gives me a kind of comfort that it never has before. I cherish every single moment. Just because I happen to have come face to face with cancer and I have this ultimate excuse to take considerable pause and truly reflect on where I am and what I am doing here does not mean you are required to go through something of this magnitude to take your own pause. Take my story and those of others and allow yourself to have that moment right now. We cannot control the future and we cannot change the past. So, live in the moment. That is all we can do. Don’t wait for cancer, or a plane crash, or some other devastating event to change the way you approach life. Life is just too precious for that.