Life, as I know it

This is my last weekend of a rather normal life for awhile, and it’s going to be full of housecleaning, laundry, and general organization. It isn’t what I want to be doing, but it’s necessary. It’s going to take a lot of coffee to get through all of it!

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Since Stephanie died, I have been more prone to let things languish — just because my energy isn’t what it once was. Maybe it’s also because things that used to seem so important don’t seem so now. I guess it’s that way with cancer, too. Things that seemed so important just a month or so ago aren’t worth my energy now. I’ve pulled way back from Facebook. Truly, I understand everyone’s outrage about what’s happening in our country right now. I’m outraged, too, but I can’t invest my energy in it. Cancer treatment and all that goes with it requires everything you’ve got.

At work, I’ve been immersed in writing a developer document the last few weeks, so that’s been sucking up a lot of energy. It has been a bit like whack-a-mole. One minute, I think I’m almost done, and then I find more in my notes that I need to cover. The amount of work I’ve put into is probably overkill, but I wanted it to be good. There are layers to how the material is presented, and additional layers could be added, depending on the feedback I get. There is nothing earth-shaking about this document. I wouldn’t say it is (so far) my best work, but it’s pretty good. Our product is incredibly complex, so this has been a huge growth and learning opportunity for me. I’m sure I’ll fine tune the document here and there to make it even better. More than anything, I wanted this document to go out before I start chemo, and I’ve achieved that. But they are taking the wise step of hiring a contractor at work to take up the slack and to allow me to work on non-deadline work. I’m grateful, but it feels like failure on my part, because I feel I should be able to work at full capacity no matter what. My job is a huge part of my identity, but for now, I have to accept help and hope that when this is all over, I’ll be back better than ever (and that they’ll still want me).

Medical appointments, phone calls, and paperwork take a lot of space in my life now. Those constant interruptions impact my focus, but what can you do? This past week I had additional cancer testing and a visit with my oncologist. She told me that I have another enlarged lymph node–this one in my axilla–which they want to biopsy Monday morning. Gee, that’s going to be fun! Let’s give you a shot in the armpit, and then we’ll use a hollow core needle that does a quick punch to take a sample! Won’t that be a hoot? Again, it’s necessary, so I will cooperate. The results will determine, once and for all, the stage. When this all started, I was told it was a stage II or more likely a stage I cancer. Now they’re saying that if the node is positive for cancer, then I’ll be at stage IIIb. A little harder to fight, a little lower number for 5-year survival probability. Advanced and aggressive. But hey, the odds are still in my favor!

The bone scan I had on Monday looked okay, though. Well, relatively okay. It turns out I did fracture three ribs when I fell last month. Though I don’t hurt any more, it was validated for me that I did injure myself. (By the way, it’s really weird to look at your skeleton in an image–I mean, your whole skeleton!) The scan also showed quite a bit of arthritis in my knees and shoulders, with a little bit in my elbows. Spinal degeneration shows up as darker bones on the scan, so I found out a lot about why my neck and back pain has continued and gotten worse. Do I seem like I’m focusing a lot on the details? Because really, it’s just fascinating to me. What an education you get when you face a health crisis! (And boy, am I glad that all the dark areas on my scan images were “just” arthritis!)

The biopsy results of my lymph node should be back by the time I meet with my oncology nurse on Tuesday to have my pre-chemo blood tests and to go over the full chemotherapy plan and list of medications I’ll be given to avoid serious side effects. That should be an interesting (and long) visit. From what the oncologist told me on Wednesday, I will be on the AC protocol for four rounds, a dose every other week, starting the day after my 58th birthday. That is Adriamycin (aka, the Red Devil and strongest chemotherapy drug there is) and Cytoxan. I think she said my Herceptin would start after these 4 rounds, when I go to the next protocol for 12 rounds (once a week). I have to clarify that with the oncology nurse. I can expect to lose my hair by the second treatment, so I’ve heard, so I have an appointment with a friend to get my hair styled into a pink mohawk. If it’s going to fall out anyway, I may as well do something funky with it! Stephanie would laugh and call me ridiculous if she were here. Secretly, she would think, “So that’s where I got it from!”

My oncologist is a funny, little Russian woman. When we were discussing the cancer and the treatment at this visit, she applauded me on being a very educated patient. This is how I deal with things. I get bad news; I hit the books. I want to know everything I can before I face a scary thing, which chemotherapy most certainly is. Cancer treatment is, I suppose, a lot like childbirth. When the next person you meet is facing that scary thing, if you’re nice, you won’t give them the gory details, so other women who have been through this are circumspect about those details. I do expect to be dealing with some of these side effects (in addition to hair loss): nausea, diarrhea, skin changes, fatigue, headache, nail changes, and mouth sores. I’ve heard the latter can be helped if you suck on crushed ice while getting your chemo infusion. Ice causes the capillaries to contract, so less of the chemo agent can attack those cells. See? I’ve been reading. (That shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me.)

“We need to get you a port,” the oncologist said, unaware that the vascular surgeon had already gotten me in for the procedure.

I pulled my shirt aside to show her the bump under my skin. “Already done.”

She beamed at me. “Oh, you’re my hero! That’s such good news, because you know, chemo can really affect your veins, if we use your arms and your hands. Oh, that’s so good!”

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Hey, I don’t mind being called a hero, even if it’s only because I am following through on everything that is asked of me. (Not sure how well I’ll comply if they tell me to give up sugar!)

Amazingly, I feel pretty calm. Somewhere deep down are my reserve tanks, filled with years of education in the mental and the spiritual. Somewhere in there is everything I absorbed about Buddhism. Around the world, people say they are praying for me. That feels pretty good. I’ll take it. I’ve seen prayer work before, and I believe.

I’m at the well, and it is full. Everything is going to be okay.

Peace, Jude

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