Six weeks have gone by since I last wrote, and I now find myself eight sessions away from being done. Done. I had to write that word a second time because it seems so foreign to me. My life has been consumed by fighting cancer for nine months, but I will be DONE with treatment in eight sessions, which equals two weeks. This is the homestretch. I am two weeks away…
Not much “blogworthy” has happened to me recently. A twitter follower of mine told me that was a good thing, and she is absolutely correct. Not having something to write about has been nice in the sense that these past weeks have been unexpectedly calm and pretty splendid. Some minor accomplishments should be noted:
Accomplishment #1: I befriended Orange Jumpsuit Lady (see previous post), and she happens to be wonderful. She always went in for radiation treatment right after I did, and my mom struck up a conversation with her while I was being zapped one day. Turns out she has bone cancer. I was upset with my mom for telling me that. I told her to just not ask anyone else we meet at the oncologist’s office what is wrong because it is too much to handle emotionally. The following day, Orange Jumpsuit Lady and I began to speak. She told me that radiation was her first stop, with chemo being her next. I gave her some chemo tips occasionally.
One day, while I was being zapped, she asked my mom if I cried a lot. My mom was honest with her that I do cry, but lately not as much. My mom told her I was confident in a full recovery and that I just focused on that. That is when Orange Jumpsuit Lady told my mom that she cries a lot. And she gets scared. She didn’t even need to tell us that one. You can see the fear in her eyes when you talk to her, and it is heartbreaking. Every time I speak with her I feel as though she clings to every word of advice I have because she is just searching, grasping for some hope, so that is what I make sure to give her every time we interact. Her last day of radiation was a few days ago. She was set to begin chemo in a few days. I gave her a chemo pep-talk as well as a hug. Now, when I go in for radiation every day, I sit in the waiting room where I discover the seat she used to sit in empty and I find myself wishing I could speak with her. I pray for her every time I think of her.
Accomplishment #2: I have hair on my head now! This is quite the accomplishment because the hair on my head is almost an inch long! As my hair used to be about twenty-something inches long, I know I have a way to go, but an inch is a start! For weeks my head just kind of sat there without any signs of really wanting to grow hair. Then, one morning, I woke up and looked in the mirror and it was like sha-BAM! Hair in my face! Now I don’t look like I had chemo or cancer, but instead I just look like a boy. I am so happy to look like a boy! I tried to clip a pink bow in my hair the other day to help people determine that I am a girl much like you would for a newborn baby, but it fell out. Don’t worry, I will try again.
Accomplishment #3: I started running again. I used to run all the time before I got the bummer news that I had cancer (emphasis here on the word had). Running was my therapy and it worked well. After my mastectomy, running with my expanders in my chest was pretty awful. It felt weird and I couldn’t take it. Then, I had my implant exchange surgery and I couldn’t run for several weeks because I needed to heal up from that surgery. But, last week, I ran…for real. I had done a few minor baby jogs occasionally but I generally got tired or my boobs hurt. Last week, however, I started running and it felt like it did before my diagnosis, before cancer, before surgeries, before chemo, before everything. I felt like my old self and it was in a word—sweet.
Accomplishment #4: I Raced for the Cure. Last Saturday, I led a team of about thirty people in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Columbus, Ohio just as I told you I would in my post entitled, “Hope.” I just received word that the race had 44,000 participants and my team was the third highest fundraiser with our grand total reaching almost $8,000. I am proud to have rallied that kind of support. I am proud to make a difference in even one woman’s life.
The day was one I will never forget. My cherished family and friends surrounded me as well as 44,000 other people brought together for the same purpose—to celebrate strength, hope, and survival. Each life touched by someone who had to fight this. At the end of the race there was this “survival chute” that only survivors were supposed to walk through. My boyfriend, who has walked every step of the way with me through this journey, was fittingly by my side and held my hand as I passed by dozens of people that were there on the sidelines waiting to high-five all the survivors. They would high five me and exclaim, “You did it!” and that brought tears to my eyes, because they are just so right…I did.
Late last week after having dinner with a friend, I came home to begin my nightly ritual, which involves smearing “Radia-gel” (an aloe/gel substance that my radiation oncologist gave me) all over my chest. My regimen begins in the morning. After I go in for treatment, I slather up the area that is being treated with this gel and I do the same thing in the evening. I had been so thankful that up to that point I had not had much of a skin reaction at all. There were a few days I could see a minor pink tinge to my skin, but other than that it had been smooth sailing…until last week. I took my shirt off with Radia-gel in-hand ready to lather up when I noticed my armpit was bright red. I turned around and saw a less noticeable, but still red, spot on the back of my shoulder. Big bummer.
Cancer has a funny way of turning a person into an optimist. Normally, a burn under my arm and on my back would totally stress me out. But when I first saw it, I just thought to myself, “This could be way worse.” I impressed myself with this reaction. Previously, I would have had to sort of coax myself into accepting this sort of mentality, but now it just comes naturally. I have thought a lot about this…about this response that life could be worse. But can’t we always say that? Doesn’t someone else always have it a little bit tougher than we do, just as someone else always has it a little bit better than we do? (Except for Kate Middleton—no one has it better than she does.) I fear that with this kind of mentality we may have comes the hesitancy to dismiss our feelings when something bad or harmful happens to us—and I do not believe that is how we should respond. For me, because I have gone through such a rough patch, I find myself sometimes just not caring at all because I feel as though life has this tendency to be out my control. If it is out of my hands, what is the point of even getting upset?
I guess, for me, it is a constant battle between denial, acceptance, and full-blown all-consuming fear. During this journey different responses have been required at different stages of treatment. When I was first diagnosed the fear ran through my veins and literally made me sick. I don’t think I had many opportunities for denial. My body made sure of that throughout the chemo process. It was too real to deny. So now, with my burn under my arm, my skin on my back reddening, and the recent revelation that my skin on my chest is getting worse, I do think it could be worse and I am ok with this reaction because I have been through too much at this point to let a little burning slow me down. Call it what you will, but I choose to slather on that aloe gel, slip on my running shoes, and go for a run.