Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Radioactive New Year's Eve

It is New Year’s Eve.  I was up at 6 AM for a 7 AM radiation appointment before going to work.  That is not what anyone envisions for the last day of the year.  I should be on vacation enjoying the holidays, but my vacation time was and is being used to cover all the time associated with ridding my body of uterine cancer cells.  So today, I go to work.

After work, I’ll go home to celebrate.  The problem is I can’t really drink alcohol because my stomach can’t handle it.  And I can’t stay up late because of the fatigue associated with radiation.  So odds are that I won’t even make it until midnight to welcome in the New Year.

I will admit that I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today.  Even though logically I know that I should not.  I should consider myself very lucky because so far I’ve dodged another bullet that could have been so much worse.  So I should be celebrating.  I know there are other people that are waking up today knowing this will be their last New Year’s Eve.  Or wondering how they are going to put food on the table for their family.  So I need to snap out of it.  But once and a while it’s just hard to do it.

This week has been long, and to think it’s only Wednesday.  The week started with my second session of internal radiation and an IV iron infusion.  I will say that the iron infusion is helping with my energy so I should be grateful to have had it.  It looked like an IV of rusty water.  I tried to pretend that it was wine.  But I hardly felt drunk afterwards.

I have counted the days out, and I think radiation will end on January 22nd.  At that point I will have completed 25 external sessions and 3 internal sessions.  I will have been half naked in front of strangers 28 times.  I will have layed behind a heavy door over six inches think while radiation technicians watch and listen from the other side of the door.

One last thought.  To the woman who cut line in the drive-thru this morning.  I hope that getting your coffee one minute sooner than me was worth making my mood just a little less cheerful.  I saw you were at an awkward angle in the parking lot and I was actually going to let you go ahead of me had you looked up and made eye contact.  Instead you avoided eye contact and jammed your car in front of mine.  Happy Freaking New Year to you.   

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oranges Are the Devil

Last week I went to see my oncologist (my Lymphoma oncologist who I see for routine follow-up and to monitor my post-op blood thinner).  When he came in to talk to me he said he wasn’t sure why I was there for a visit.  I told him that frankly I wasn’t sure why I needed to see him either.  They always schedule the next appointment at the end of the previous appointment, and apparently he couldn’t remember why he had them schedule it so soon.

But actually he found something to discuss.  They always do a quick blood check while I’m there; just a finger prick’s worth of blood.  They ran my hemoglobin and the test showed that I was anemic.  He went ahead and had them take additional blood so he could further analyze my blood. There are many reasons that I could be anemic including recovery from surgery, radiation, and medications. He told me to go ahead and start taking iron pills.    
Today the oncology center called back about the bloodwork results.  Apparently he wants me to have two sessions of iron infusion (via IV) to help with the anemia and one additional test.  It seems like this whole ordeal is the gift that keeps on giving.  I go next week for my first iron infusion.  This time of year I want to think about infusions of cinnamon, ginger, and brandy.  Not iron.  The anemia can cause fatigue as well as sensitivity to cold.  I have been experiencing both.  I assumed the fatigue was radiation related. 

Speaking of radiation, today was day eight (out of 28) of radiation and my first session of internal radiation.  The internal radiation takes a little longer and is a bit more awkward and uncomfortable.  I will have internal radiation for the next two Mondays. The side effects of radiation had already started a bit late last week and the dose of internal radiation seemed to have kicked them into high gear this morning.  I have an irritated stomach pretty much every day and I feel like I have to pee RIGHT NOW even when I don’t.  Luckily I can take medications to help, and I can also alter my diet.
Bizarrely, the “radiation diet” suggests that I don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains.  I’ve been kidding around with Robbie that I’m now on the white food diet!  Mashed potatoes, pasta, dumplings, white bread, and chicken breast.  The unfortunate part is that it looks like coffee is no longer tolerable.  And heaven forbid I eat an orange.  I ate an orange a couple of days ago and I was miserable for hours. 
Today has been tough.  The news about the IV iron along with a round of side effects that came on fast this morning has left me a little weary.  I want to be drinking candy cane martinis and enjoying myself without worrying about the consequences.  This shall pass, but I am having a hard time being cheerful today.  Robbie brought me home beautiful flowers at lunch as well as much needed medication.  As always, he is a rock star when it comes to taking care of me.  As a veteran of “the fight”, I know that these days happen and that tomorrow will be a new day.  I just need to be kind to myself and wait this one out. If you are of good health, please go out and have a martini for me – I am with you in spirit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On the Fifth Day of Radiation

Today was day five of radiation.  I am 17% done with my treatment.  So far, so good.  No real side effects yet except feeling like I need an early bedtime.  But that could be lingering effects of the surgery in combination with the radiation.  I’m starting to get into the routine of hitting the hospital each morning and getting radiated.  I wear Christmas earrings each day and they play Christmas music in the radiation room so I suppose it’s a downright festive environment.  The radiation technicians are a great bunch of women.  They are compassionate and joyful, particularly given what they deal with each day.  They make me laugh and help me overcome the anxiousness of being half naked while getting nuked in front of strangers everyday.
The hospital has valet parking for radiation patients.  This is very accommodating, except it posed a dilemma for me.  When you are told to use valet at a medical facility, do you tip the valet?  I researched online and found a variety of answers.  By the time I’m done with my treatment I will go there over 30 times in the course of just over a month.  That would be a lot of tipping.  I was feeling guilty every time I showed up and didn’t tip.  And it didn’t help that the weather has been cold or rainy almost every morning.  And the folks that work the valet are about as nice as they come.
I finally decided to tip – if nothing else to relieve the stress I was feeling about the situation.  There are two people that work pretty much everyday so yesterday I took a $10 for each of them.  I figured that would cover me for this month and I could gauge their reaction about tipping.  Both said I didn’t need to do it, but did not refuse the tip.  So from the reaction, it’s allowed but not expected.  That was good to know.  I figure in January I can do it again.
The other “side effect” I am experiencing is that I am feeling a little bit overwhelmed.  Between all the appointments, keeping up with work, and the to-do list associated with the holidays there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day.  I am starting to become a little scrooge-esque in my attitude towards the holidays.  I am working through the to-do list and am hopeful that I will feel a little less negative by the weekend.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'm so tired, but I can't sleep...

I have returned to work full time after my surgery.  It is great to be among the living again.  I craved the feeling of being normal so desperately.  And really for the most part I feel great.  The incisions are starting to fade to scars, and I can go for hours sometimes without thinking about this whole ordeal.  When I get home at night though, I am exhausted. The kind of tired where your whole body aches.  And I watch the clock and can't wait for 9 PM to roll around so I can head to bed without feeling like a toddler.  It has only been six weeks since my surgery so this is not unexpected.

But several times over the last week I get to bed and sleep doesn't come which defies all logic.  I watch Netflix or cruise the Internet in an effort to distract myself from trying to fall asleep.   Most nights I eventually do get to sleep.  Tonight is not one of those nights.  It could have something to do with today not being the best of days.

Today was my first day of radiation simulation.  It is the set-up process to prepare you for radiation. Because my radiation will be on my pelvic area, it requires some awkward nakedness.  I basically take my pants down to mid-thigh and lay on a table while various technicians position me, draw on me with markers, and put stickers on me.  Sounds like a frat party gone wrong.  To add to the good times, a probe was also inserted while I was being X-rayed to ensure alignment within my vagina. Once they felt I was perfectly aligned, a mold of my legs and their position was created so that each day when I lay on the table I will lay the exact same way.  I also had a CT scan to confirm alignment. I go back next week for one more dry run before we go live.  

A public service announcement for all you ladies out there - have your pap smears. You may hate it, but waiting too long to get a gynecological issue diagnosed can land you where I am now.  More people have seen my lady parts over the last two months than I care to count.  I would give anything to turn back time and be able to schedule a papsmear for about a year ago.  There may have been a chance for early diagnosis and treatment that would not have required radiation and would not require daily nakedness in front of strangers.

Part of me wants to just not do the radiation.  I don't currently have cancer.  I could refuse treatment. But as much as I want to walk away, I don't want to risk it coming back.  The future would hold much worse things for me than five weeks of awkward nakedness, side effects, and probing.  And I would be writing about how I should have just sucked it up.   

These recent blogs are difficult to write and share.  This is the type of thing you don't talk about with strangers and weirdos on the Internet.  But I know the power of the Internet.  Some woman out there may find this blog and find comfort knowing that she is not alone.  Or someone else may read it and get that pap smear they have been putting off.  Or maybe my jokes about awkward nakedness will make someone laugh on a bad day.  Any of these outcomes make my willingness to share worth the risk of embarrassment.