Cancer: Chemo, and Other Side Effects.

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I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  No one is, I assume, but mentally AND physically my body has been through a major trauma.  And as I think about the past year, I have to think about chemo and what it’s done. Before I started chemo, I remember feeling this dark curiosity towards it. I was curious. A strong body like I thought I had - what was chemo going to do? And as someone who was never sick, what was chemo going to do? Was I going to feel sick all of the time? Was I going to have to stop working?  Would I have to stop going out?  Having fun?  Drinking?  Eating? What was going to happen? I really wanted to dive right into it. I also wanted to call chemo ‘medicine’ as opposed to ‘poison’. Chemo was hopefully going to save my life, so I better treat it with a little respect, no? I better bow down to it and love it and love the fact that I could receive chemo. Chemo HAD to be the bomb! Also, every time I sat in my chair looking out the window, I was consciously asking the universe, ‘Please let me receive this medicine to kill the bad cells and save the good ones. Please allow this medicine to heal me. Thank you for giving me this medicine. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get rid of the cancer cells. Thank you.’ 

And it was a success. Chemo worked so fast on my large 7cm plus tumor, that by the 3rd round of chemo, my doctors had a hard time feeling it! My doctors were so shocked at how fast the tumor was shrinking, that it filled me up with so much gratitude. And it was all gratitude for chemo, for finding the right medicine that would save me, that DID save me. 

I’ve learned with every up there is a down, and it definitely wasn’t all fun and games and happiness.There was a lot of pain, a lot of nights where I couldn't sleep because I felt so nauseous, a lot of tears coming from exhaustion, frustration of not feeling like myself, and a lot of doctor visits and blood tests, just to make sure I was surviving the treatment. I remember having to carry a thermometer in my purse because if my temp ever got past 99.9, I had to go to the emergency room. I was not allowed to get my nails done for risk of infection. I wasn’t supposed to be in large crowds because of germs. I basically had no immune system, so you kind of have to live in a bubble. But for the most part, I was lucky. I NEVER got sick even when my husband and family were all catching the flu. I didn’t have to stop working even though I was a lot more tired than normal. I didn't stop my normal exercise routine, and I didn’t even stop having fun once in a while. Today, however, I’m living with a lot of after effects that I’m not always so happy about, and as much as I want to be back to ‘normal’, I’m definitely not… 

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1.   Fatigue: This was the first thing the doctors told me I would experience, without a doubt. And they were right. I remember being on a stationary bike and feeling exhausted after only riding for 5 minutes. I remember taking my dog on walks and not being able to get up the hills I used to do daily. I used to be a gymnast, so all of this was very humbling to me. I never used to nap, and I became a daily napper. But it gave me a chance to actually listen to my body and do what it needed me to do. I needed to rest more, go to bed earlier say NO to fun events, and say YES to sleeping in. I’m a lot better these days. I can walk my hills, I can ride the stationary bike, I can do Pilates class and teach all of my yoga clients… however, I DO need more rest that I did before chemo, and I DO allow myself to nap now and then without feeling guilty :) 

2.  Nausea: I was fortunately only nauseous for 1 to 5 days after chemo, where it was hard to eat.  Also, my taste buds were changing, making things that I used to love not taste so good, making things I didn't like so much taste amazing - it was really weird!  The first couple of chemo rounds made wine taste AMAZING… like grape juice, it was quenching my thirst, it was hitting the spot, and it didn't need to be expensive or anything, it just needed to be red. Also salty things tasted amazing; chips, fries, red meat, pretzels, popcorn… it was all I was craving, and probably not the best diet for cancer, but my doctors said whatever I wanted to eat was ok during chemo because you’re just lucky to be able to eat. I wanted cold things too, like ice cream or ice chips, or fruit, grapes, blueberries, apples, those all tasted good to me. I didn't want to eat fish too much, or sugary things were not a turn on. Coffee, which I drank every day, did not taste good to me. I knew I was back to normal when coffee started tasting good to me, and normal was good back then. I didn’t end up losing OR gaining weight which was a possibility. If anything, I lost a lot of muscle because I wasn’t working out, but mostly I felt heavier because chemo makes your capillaries retain fluids so I felt bloated all of the time.   

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3.  Chemo brain: I didn’t get this right away, but now being 6 months after chemo, my memory is definitely NOT like it was before. And stupid things happen like, you’re trying to remember a famous song and you know the guy but you can’t think of his name and it could be Elton John!  Or you mix up your friend’s names. Or you can’t remember the fight you had the day before…? These are just some examples of how it appears to lose your mind. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely lasting. I hear that it will go away eventually, but as of now, I am definitely living with chemo brain. At least I have an excuse when I don’t remember something!

4.  Mood swings: I don’t have these so much anymore, but during chemo, I was a roller coaster, and the person who suffered the most from my moods swings was my husband. Basically, it’s like being on your period, times 100! I would cry for no reason, I would be mean, I would call for ‘my mommy’, I was a mess… and then sometimes I was so happy, so full of craziness, so full of life… There was no rhyme or reason, it was just another thing I had to surrender to…and my husband and to deal ;) 

5.  Dead libido: Chemo has shut down my ovaries forever, kind of sad, very sad, I will never get a period again, but kind of cool, I will never get a period again :)  But as a young woman who loved sex, sex became such a chore. It also was painful. I was so dry. Ouch, I don't want to think about it… Thank god I had a husband who understood all of these temporary effects, and thank God it was only temporary. You never know whether something is going to be ‘forever’ or not. All you know it that you are experiencing something soooooooo different to what you normally experience, and can you please please please get back to who you were, Well, I will never get back to where I was exactly, but I can say as a pre-menopausal woman, the libido is making its way back to being alive again, slowly, very slowly, but surely… 

All in all, I am not the same after chemo, and I heard it takes a good year to 2 years to get back to feeling ‘normal’ again. I’m not sure I will ever feel ‘normal’ again, but then again, I never really felt ‘normal’ to begin with?!  All I can say is chemo was not fun. And looking back, I think it was helpful to NOT KNOW what was going to happen. For me, it made it less scary and I was more curious. If I had to do it all again, knowing everything I know now, I would not be happy. I might be more scared, more depressed, because it was really hard and trying on my body and my psyche. I was strong because I didn't know any better. I might not be as strong the second time around, but then again, you are what you need to be, and why am I even worrying about it? I am NOT going to have to go through chemo again… NEVER!

Weekend Reflections: WHY WHY WHY Do I Have Cancer???

I wanted to see what I was feeling almost a year ago, exactly how I was feeling…  I was journaling at that time. So as I dive into this blog ‘thing’, "Weekend Reflections" are going to be about going back in time, not remembering per say, but in actuality, how I was feeling… a blip from the past, EXACTLY how I saw it. Let's go back a little bit...

----> Dec 16, 2016 <----

So, today I found out from the pet scan that I have a weird thing going on in my sternum bone. Once again, nothing is cleared. The pet scan was supposed to be an easy test showing nothing else. But something else is there, and the anxiety is horrible. I can’t control anything. I am OUT of control. I’m wanting the doctors to be IN control, but they too are OUT of control. And you want to trust that every doctor cares about you, but it’s a business, and they’re so many people. Maybe I’m just a number to them and not someone they can actually care about because they don’t really know me, so they pretend to care, but I hope more than anything that they care about the cancer and curing it more than they cure about me.  I hope they’re vigilant about fighting the cancer.  I will be vigilant about fighting it. 

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But I can’t help but ask myself, WHY WHY WHY? Why am I having to do this? What did I do wrong? All of my choices in my life... Am I being punished?  I smoked in my life. I knew it was wrong, but I chose to do it, so is that why I have breast cancer? I had mammograms EVERY year for 7 years, and NOTHING was alarming to the doctors, so why tell me I have stage 3 cancer? 

And now if it’s in the sternum, it’s stage 4.  And doesn't stage 4 mean that you're gonna die?  I’m soooooooo not ready to die. I thought I was just starting to live, not EVEN starting to live. Has my depression caused all this? I was always diagnosed with a little bit of depression throughout my life. Did my last relationship break my heart, and is that why my sternum has cancer?  Did I not take life seriously? Was I too rebellious? Is that why I have cancer? Why do I have cancer?  Why, God, why? 

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I honestly thought that it would be hard to kill me. I was gonna live into my 100’s for sure.  I was mostly worried about Larry (my husband) dying and leaving me with not a lot to keep going.  That was my worry.  Not dying.  In fact, I remember the reason I bought my first pack of cigarettes was when I was about 23 and it was not because I wanted to die, I just wanted to help the death process because I thought I was gonna live too long. Nothing could kill me, so maybe this is the first test?  Nothing can kill me.  I’m invincible.  But, I have to say when you’re hearing all of this news about cancer and the type and the stage it is, you don’t feel very invincible. And it’s like a week before Christmas, a week before everyone is supposed to be cheery and vacationing and going to parties and getting presents and I can’t think of anything other than I have cancer, I HAVE CANCER. Do you have cancer?  

Ugh, this is going to be a tough year. What caused this? I NEED to know!  I can’t believe how different life feels to be in this place. To NOT know if you’re gonna live. I guess I’m supposed to ignore this and just know I AM going to live. I will have to fight, but I WILL live.  I thought some days I had a cloud over me just because I felt fat, or I felt insecure, or I was worried about money, or I was worried about fighting with Larry, or I was bored, or whatever the cloud was…. but now there really is a cloud, a big black cloud, and I know how it feels to be under it; it’s over you at every second, and you feel so alone. No one can really know how it feels to be diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer unless they’re diagnosed.

In the past, I’ve felt compassionate to so many cancer people. Ha, I call them ‘cancer people’, but I was also so secure that I was never gonna have it, and also so grateful that it wasn’t me that had it… I could give compassion at the same time that I could feel I wasn't connected to it. But now I’m connected,  and oh boy, I wish I wasn’t connected. Am I still the same person? I THINK I’m still the same person. I HOPE I’m still the same person, but I feel there is now a stigma or something.  Now people will look at me differently, feel sorry for me, treat me differently.  My friends will stop feeling the same way about me. I’ll be someone they need to take care of, not someone they always go to for advice or to do things with.  

Oh my hair, I love my hair and it’s all gonna go if I don’t use the cold pads on my head … what should I do? GOD, where are you?  Please talk to me. I need you. I want to know you are watching me and on my side. What do you want me to do? I promise I will help every cancer victim after I survive this, I will love to help people get through this. I will donate money. I will write a book about my journey, my story of survival and being scared. 

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I’m so lucky to have found out that I have something curable, and so many people have this and not something that is deadly and incurable. But I start to feel like my life has not been worth anything so far, like my life has been a waste, and that’s why I am getting this. I was given a certain amount of years, and since nothing really happened so far, then I’m going to be killed off.  I didn't have any kids, don’t have a big job, not really doing anything good for the world, so get rid of me. Maybe?

I hate that I’m causing pain to my family, especially my mom who has been through so much.  I guess part of me is happy I’m the one who has it and not the one who is witnessing it because that would be harder than having it. I can beat it. I am strong enough to go through it all, so I’m glad I have all the support of my friends and family. I feel like I am extra young to be going through this, but it is my journey and this is what I got… I've a great life so far, maybe too good, so I need to pay up right now. But I could also be looked at like the girl who never got what she wanted.  I had the broken heart. I had a career that was not ever fulfilling. I wanted a child that I never had. Poor Jenn. Wow, there are really so many ways of looking at this, so many perspectives, but what do they matter anyway?  I have cancer. That’s all I know.

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Everyone I talk to who has had cancer, are all so supportive and positive - like they know since they were cured, I will be cured.  Even the doctors aren’t saying I’ll be cured, so it’s hard to know that as a fact. Part of me is so okay to die, and that part scares me.  I don’t have kids who need me. I have a dog who needs me, basically.  I have people I don’t want to leave, but no one really NEEDS me, so maybe that fact alone will make the cancer worse. I don’t want to think bad thoughts; I really want to stay positive. Sometimes I feel so positive, but that also could be denial.  Sometimes I feel so scared, so out of control, and I don’t like feeling that way. It’s the worst feeling in the world, actually, for a control freak. Maybe once I feel the chemo, the chemo will be worse. I’m better with psychological pain over physiological pain, I think? I guess we’ll find out soon… ugh… I’m scared.

I’ll end this by saying, I WILL get through this, I really do believe that, because medicine is so great now, but I still don’t like hearing that stage 4 is more serious, that we don’t know for sure if the cancer will react to the chemo, that we don’t know if it’s gonna come back or not… I guess it will have to be day by day, moment by moment, and hope that the strength I have inside will come out. I used to be called a mac truck because I was never sick and never felt anything wrong.  It’ll be a strange thing do be looked at like the ‘sick person’. Maybe I’m the only one who looks at me that way?  But then again, I AM sick, I AM the ‘sick person’.  So weird. because I don't feel sick... Anyway, all I know right now is that I don’t want to die, and that I really don’t understand anything anymore…