Monday, August 29, 2011

Day of Betrayal

Fall is just around the corner. It is my favorite time of year. I love it when the morning air begins to get crisp and cool. I watch each tree with anticipation of the changing colors. I can’t wait for the fall festivals, taking photos on the blueridge parkway, and heading into the mountains for fresh apples and cider.

Normally, fall is always a fun time at home for us. Since moving to North Carolina from Florida, one of the things we delight in is having a change of season. We usually have lots of wine-making activities and love looking for sugar maples at the peak of their color. Robbie’s sister usually comes for a visit as well.

It was most likely September of last year when the cancer began its journey with me. I remember feeling a little tired, but assumed it was work-related. I was in the process of taking on a new role, and was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I remember going to Blowing Rock with Robbie’s sister and having the funky ear-ache/throat “thing” that just wouldn’t go away. I’m not sure when to celebrate my cancerversary. Some people commemerate the day they were diagnosed. Others celebrate the day they were declared NED (no evidence of disease). I think those are both significant dates in my history now. But I really wish I could nail down that date when my body decided to go rogue and started to create destroyer cells. I would call it something melodramatic such as “Day of Betrayal”.

And had you suggested during that time that I might have cancer, I would have laughed at you. Probably 90% of people diagnosed NEVER believed it would happen to them. I think the few folks that did think it might happen probably had a family history or are the type of person that is paranoid regularly that they are getting some sort of disease read about online.

Speaking of paranoia, I have been going through a phase where I think everyone has cancer. Be careful to cough or complain of any ailment in my vicinity. Give me ten minutes, and I could get you good and terrified. At various points during the month, I’ve tried to tell my husband he might have cancer. I also suggested that maybe the dog has cancer. How have you been feeling? Have you been to the Doctor lately? I am over-educated about cancer at this point. I know even the most remote symptoms.

In other cancer news, the hair is looking less like that of a chia pet. My husband finally said to me this weekend “you know…maybe you should try some mousse or gel or something…” I have been avoiding hair “products” because new hair can be delicate. But seriously, it was standing straight up. I looked freshly terrified all the time. So I bought some sort of cross between a gel and a mousse on Saturday. I can’t remember exactly what it was called. But it does seem to have tamed the crazy a little.

Life is busy right now, but in a good way. Busy is a distraction, and the more distracted I am, the faster time will pass by. And the more time that passes by, the more distance I can put between me and my annoying companion.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Giving Back

A 5K/10K trail challenge was held today at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte to support the leukemia and lymphoma society. Several folks at work put together a team to participate in the 5K race, and a few of us also volunteered at the event.

Volunteers had to show up at 6:30 AM, which meant I needed to leave my house at 5:30 AM. Throw in the challenge of feeding and giving a shot to the diabetic dog prior to leaving the house, and that meant we had to get up at 4:45 AM. The alarm didn’t go off, but luckily I woke up shortly after five and with some serious rushing we managed to arrive to the whitewater center on-time.

Robbie and I were assigned the water and banana table along with several other volunteers. It didn’t feel like we did much, but someone has to do even the little things to make these types of events a success.

The Team from work was amazing. Our team placed first in the 5K for a mixed team. Additionally, a co-worker walked the 5K with a baby on her back. Impressive, indeed! We all wore shirts designed by Bernie, our graphic artist, and they were awesome. I am so in love with this shirt. Another co-worker ordered purple terrycloth headbands to match. We looked awesome. I was very touched that they choose to support this event – it meant a lot to me. I work with great people and their actions remind me of this often. My sincerest gratitude goes out to Leslie, Bernie, Karen, Sarah, Courtney, Grant, George, and Ricardo.

Next year, if they do the race again, I will do the 5K. I felt lazy for not doing it this year. I felt inspired by all the folks who participated. It was great to cheer everyone on at the finish line.

Ha, cancer! You delivered a fabulous day. Take that!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wigging Out to a Syncopated Beat

I’ve said goodbye to the wigs. I now feel like I appear as a deranged mental patient who got a hold of a pair of clippers. No one in their right mind would select this as a hair style, but as the saying goes “It will grow.”

With the super-short hair, I feel like I’m holding up a big banner that says “I had cancer!” With the wig, I could pass for normal in crowds and I didn’t constantly feel like I was displaying the fact that I had cancer. Even though I blog about it, I feel like it’s a very personal thing. Sometimes you just want to appear normal. With my hair on display, I feel like I’m flaunting it for the world to see. This whole discussion shows how self-centered I am in that I believe everyone I meet cares about my hair, or lack thereof.

I am trying to find my rhythm. Everyone else seems to be on the same sheet of music. I seem to be working off of something a bit more syncopated. In music, syncopation is defined as the shifting of the nomal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats. Stevie Wonder was famous for this – Superstition is a great example. Syncopation can be awesome. But I feel like I’m humming my syncopated tune, while everyone else is nodding their heads to strong classic rock beat!

I also find myself in a sea of people that are living life and are excited about the day-to-day things that happen. I am having a hard time getting energized about things that aren’t life or death. And in a way, this is awesome. I’ve been given a perspective that has allowed me to step back and see what is important and to not sweat the small stuff. But there is a flip side to this. If I’m not getting excited about the day-to-day things, then that means I’m not living life to it’s fullest.

Life after cancer is a combination of grief and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I feel like I’m grieving for the life I had pre-cancer. I was na├»ve and happy and oblivious to my own mortality. I will never have that again, and that sucks. When a person is in danger, it is natural to feel afraid. When someone has PTSD, the reaction to danger becomes changed, and you can feel stressed and frightened even when you are no longer in danger. I still fear cancer. I fear it coming back. My fear is unrational at this point, but I still feel it. Sometimes it overwhelms me. Other times, I’m able to let it fade into the background.

To sum it up, this mental patient is coping the best I can. Each day that passes is another day that I don’t have cancer. And as the old proverb says, I have to stop letting yesterday use up too much of today.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Crocodile Tears

Before I went to sleep last night, I was lying in bed reading about the treatment protocol for recurring Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I wanted to make sure I had an understanding of the treatment protocol in case I received negative results today. This resulted in horrible nightmares about having cancer.

I tried to start the day with a good outlook. I stopped at Starbucks for coffee and then began my drive to Charlotte. I could feel tension in my whole body and I couldn’t get my mind off of the upcoming appointment. At one point I began to cry, but I managed to compose myself by the time I got to work.

It was a good day at the office. Bernie brought me breakfast. I then went to lunch with the ladies at the office where we brainstormed T-shirt ideas for the upcoming race benefiting the leukemia and lymphoma society. When we returned to the office, we had a little Birthday party with flourless chocolate cake made by Karen – complete with candles and pink balloons!

Afterwards I started the drive back to Hickory for my oncology appointment. My chest felt tight, and I kept taking deep breaths to shake the tension. They took my vitals, and my blood pressure was high. It hasn’t been high at home, and I explained that I was feeling a bit of anxiety about the appointment. She said that was understandable. They were running behind, so they sent me back to the waiting room. Eventually I was called back. The technician that called me back was the same technician that I freaked out on during my first visit when I had the bone marrow draw. He told me to go ahead and put on a gown on my top half. This totally freaked me out because I usually don’t have to put on a gown.

Then I waited for what seemed like the longest 15 minutes of my life. Finally the mid-level (Jr. level doctor who does the initial exam) comes in and says “PET Scan looked great. How have you been feeling?” I immediately break into sobs. I felt like my body had been wrapped very tightly in ropes, and that they were all at once released. I explained that the waiting has been agony. I told her that while you are fighting cancer you feel like you’re doing something, but the waiting after the fact is brutal. I told her that I felt helpless. She smiled and said my reaction was actually very normal. She said it’s completely expected that I worry over every ache and pain and that I have some anxiety about the scans and follow-up. She handed me tissue and congratulated me.

I waited about another 15 minutes to see the actually oncologist. He too said that the scan looked great. He said that we’d do another PET Scan and follow-up in 3 to 4 months and to call in the meantime with any questions or concerns.

So 39? Not such a bad Birthday. I am taking tomorrow off for some de-compression time and will be spending the day relaxing and thinking about the future. It seems just a bit brighter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Don't Come Around Now, You're Not Welcome Anymore

This week brings my 39th Birthday. There was a time that I was feeling depressed about this Birthday. After all, once you hit 39 it’s all downhill. It’s all wrinkles and senility and gray hair. But that line of thinking was pre-cancer. Another Birthday means I’m still alive and kicking. My 38th year will hopefully be known as the year I kicked cancer’s ass. And each future Birthday means I’ve managed to fend off the reaper another year.

I had my PET Scan today. It was my fourth one. My last one was in March. I had forgotten it was so long ago. The previous Scan was just after my last chemotherapy treatment, but just before radiation. My radiation ended in late May, so cancer has had two months post any type of treatment to re-invade. As I sat there before my scan, I couldn’t help but to think back to my previous scans. The first two were gray wintery days. I remember looking out the window and thinking that the weather certainly matched my mood. Those were the worst of days. The first scan was just after I had been diagnosed, and I was finding out the extent of the cancer. The second scan was after three chemo treatments. The brutality of chemo had started to take a toll on my mental state. I kept a brave face, but I was tired and scared.

Today was a beautiful sunny day. I chatted with Joe and Cheryl and met the new nuclear technician in training. The staff at the PET center have become familiar faces that bring a bit of comfort. The mood was light and cheerful. It was as if we were old friends getting together for lunch and catching up. The Scan went fine and I’ll get the results from my oncologist on Thursday afternoon. I am hoping for an all clear – it would be the ultimate birthday present.

And although I can’t help but to feel a little fear about the results, I am facing the future with the knowledge that I can handle whatever comes my way. If it comes back, I will fight it with everything I have. I want to see my 40th Birthday. I am counting the days until I turn 50. I want to get old. I want to forget where I put my teeth.

Thank you to the American Cancer Society for more Birthdays. It is organizations like you that provide the funding and awareness that makes it possible for more treatments and cures.

Keep your fingers crossed for me on Thursday! I'm hoping to be celebrating on Friday!