SO EXCITED to write this post...TODAY IS ONE YEAR SINCE MY FINAL CHEMO!!! 😍
Honestly, so much happens during cancer treatment, and for me, chemo was only the first phase of a VERY long journey. When I think back to this day, it seems so long ago, even though it really wasn't!
During treatment, I kept a private blog for friends and family to save myself energy from constantly repeating everything. I always promised myself if I was going to blog, I would be honest about the day-to-day journey of a breast cancer patient. Since my memory was not the best during chemo (and beyond, I'm now learning!), I'm so thankful to have a record of it all.
Where my memory fails me, I have referenced blog excerpts from that time below...
"Come on Down!"
Shortly before I was diagnosed, my boyfriend and I went to a taping of The Price is Right (back when I had nothing better to do with my time, since it wasn't yet filled with constant doctor's appointments). FUN, right?? That's what I thought, too...until I had to watch myself on TV while deep into chemo:
As I laid in bed this morning with nausea recovering from chemo and watched my former self on TV, it actually just made me really sad to see my B(efore) C(ancer) self with hair and energy, back when I had freedom and decided, "Why not go to a taping of 'The Price is Right?!' We live right here!" As I watched myself today, clapping and carefree, it just brought me to tears. :(
Recently, I re-watched the movie, 50/50 (I'm a big JGL fan!), and there is a part near the end, after chemo and before surgery, when he says, "I just want it to be over. I'm so sick of being sick." I knew exactly what he meant.
Ironically, that show taping was only a few weeks before my diagnosis, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I'd be lying to say I didn't miss that time and just wish this wasn't happening to me. Reality is a bitch that will constantly remind you what an asshole Cancer really is!! As a woman now constantly having to get ready to say goodbye to different parts of her body, all large parts of her femininity and identity, I can't help but wonder, "Whose body will I have when it's all done? What will be left of me?" And although I know it is necessary to give up some of my parts in order to save my life, I still mourn their loss, along now with my energy, appetite, and any control over my body.
I really hate you sometimes, Cancer.
Goodbye, Comfortable Chemo
I have written before about the oddity of "comfortable chemo." Since chemo was my first treatment phase, it was all I knew at the time, and although ending it should have been a joyous celebration (which it was!), there was also a slight sadness to that final round:
Oftentimes online, people post photos of their last chemo day, usually holding a poster with their last chemo date, number of rounds completed, etc. The weekend before my last chemo, I asked my talented boyfriend to illustrate my poster. (I knew that it would be personal and amazing!) To get ready, I bought posterboard. When he showed me what he illustrated, I was clapping with happiness! I knew it would be awesome, and I was right! I also wanted to do something special for the amazing chemo nurses who took such good care of me, so I was sure to order a dozen "Thank You" cupcakes for them, along with a dozen "NO MO' CHEMO!!!" cupcakes for us. It felt like it was a moment to celebrate, and I was ready!
Since my previous chemo was on a Tuesday instead of the usual Monday, my oncologist pushed my final round to the following Tuesday. The days before, I was emotional and anxious...probably a mix of excitement and anxiety that my "comfy chemo" routine was about to end, and facing surgery would begin. Before the session, we picked up the cupcakes, after which I promptly took a picture! The bakery did an amazing job!
My mother, my boyfriend and I then headed to chemo for the final round. As I was being weighed, I said to one of my nurses, "It's my last one!" and she gave me a high-five. I dropped off the "Thank You" cupcakes, and they were so appreciative! One of my usual nurses was also out, so I asked them to keep one aside for her (I hope they did!). I also gave them a Thank You card and gave special thanks inside to all of the nurses who worked with me the most. (Although I know this is their job, chemo nurses are amazingly compassionate, and I felt this was the least I could do for them to show my thanks.) I also showed them my poster, and they loved it! Soon, the nurses were visiting in my chemo chair, asking to see the poster!
While we waited for our labs, my oncologist saw us and checked the tumor again. She said she felt I had a tremendous response and said I would need to return in three weeks for them to check on me. She also wanted me to lock in a surgery date with my surgeon, which we were still determining. As she was about to send me to my final chemo, I wanted to show her my "NO MO' CHEMO!!!" cupcakes, and I have never heard her laugh so much!! She loved them. I also showed her my poster, and asked if she wanted to take a cupcake, and she said I better take a picture of everything first!
I realized between our group, no one would eat a dozen cupcakes, so I decided to grab a few and then gave the rest to the nurses. When I went to drop them off, the nurses loved the message, and they all took out their phones to take pictures! As patients came in, they were like, "One second, we are busy!!" LOL! They also took pictures of me with my poster and cupcakes! I also asked that they cover everything up (I still hate looking!) while prepping my arm, so they put a pink bandage on it to celebrate my last session.
As we sat back down to actually begin chemo, I noticed a few younger people in the infusion room this time. It's comforting in a weird way (I'm usually the only non-silver fox there), but then it also makes me sad that cancer is affecting those younger and younger. :( A young girl was sitting next to me in the other corner, and I apologized for all of the visitors and noise, but she congratulated me on my last round! I showed her my awesome poster as well! The nurse asked if she could offer her a cupcake, but she refused.
While I was in the chair, a friend from NYC was flying through L.A. that day, and he showed up to see me during my last chemo session!!! I was a puddle when I saw him! (He has been amazingly supportive from afar, but it was amazing to see him and hug him in person!) As we were talking during my infusion, my chemo buddy (who had already finished his chemo rounds some weeks before) stopped bye to say goodbye!! I never thought we would see him again after he finished! It was fabulous to see him!! Our nurse had informed him when my last session was, so he stopped by! S'wonderful!
Back during my second chemo session (I remember still having hair), I remember seeing a young girl in the corner with lots of visitors, and they were taking a ton of pictures. It turned out to be her last chemo! I congratulated her on the way out and saying to my boyfriend, "When will that ever be???" And there we were...taking over our corner, being slightly rowdy, and celebrating all of it! There was so much going on in my corner, I barely noticed when my machine beeped when time was up! (My boyfriend actually filmed this for me, and I am so glad he did. I had to watch it later!) The nurse came over to take the needle out of my port, put a band-aid on, and I was done! As I was leaving, I hugged the nurses bye and said, "Don't take this wrong, but I hope I don't see you again!!" They laughed and said goodbye. I think they got it!
We wanted to celebrate when we left, so we found a happy hour nearby where we could sit outside and enjoy the amazing weather! My NYC friend also had a little time before his flight and was also able to join us. So amazing! We had a toast to my final chemo and let the waitress know what we were celebrating! She congratulated me and took photos for us! I still couldn't believe my friend from New York was there!! As he went to leave, we hugged goodbye, and I just surrendered to the inevitable tears. He said to me, "You have accomplished a lot and are an inspiration!"
It was a wonderfully positive day, which is not always the easiest during this journey...I just took it all in that night and appreciated it all. The next day, I woke up with an odd mix of excitement and sadness. Yes, I was done with chemo, but now, time to think about surgery! I wasn't ready yet. I also went to chemo every week for the past few months, and it was weird to not have to go anymore. And I would miss the people and routine of it! I thought I would be more excited, but when I talked to a survivor friend later, she said this was very common; she didn't want to say anything, in case I felt differently. The chemo place was a big part of my life for awhile, and now it was done. It also feels like you are at least doing something about the cancer while in chemo, and now...I just hang out? Weird.
To write this update, it was fun and interesting to recount my final chemo day. What really struck me in revisiting it was how positive and joyous it was! Most especially, I was so thankful that my mother, my boyfriend and my NYC friend could be there to celebrate with me! I'm also glad we celebrated my amazing oncology team while in the infusion room. They really took good care of me during that tough time, and I will always be thankful to them. (Someone had asked me then why I had bothered with the cupcakes, when that was "their job." Even so, I know it's not an easy one, and sometimes it's nice to hear you are making a difference in people's lives!)
Looking back on that day, I don't remember feeling joyous. When my NYC friend hugged me goodbye and told me I was an "inspiration," the tears started flowing. I was weak, bald, had no taste buds (big bummer for this foodie) and completely uncertain of my journey ahead. Although people had said that to me all along, I never believed it...like all cancer patients, I was just trying to get through it. I knew they meant well, but when I heard, "You're so strong! I don't know how you do it!" I didn't feel inspirational and strong. All I could think was, "WHAT CHOICE DO I HAVE?!"
Hello, Post-Cancer Blues
As I hit my one-year post-chemo mark, I'm finding one of the hardest stages is the post-treatment one. As I move now into becoming a "long-term survivor," I'm still trying to figure out what that means. The merry-go-round of doctor's appointments has finally slowed down, but I'm not quite sure how to get off the ride and enjoy my newfound "freedom." For us, there is a strange comfort in our constant routine of doctor's appointments...at least we know we are doing something about the cancer. Now, in the eerie quiet of being cut loose, I'm uncertain of how to "get busy living." Cancer is like a shadow that follows me everywhere, while I constantly fear recurrence will pop out at any moment.
Recently, I spoke to a fellow survivor who said it never really hit her that she had cancer until AFTER treatment was over, and it clicked immediately. (Personally, I don't think it even hit me until the lull between radiation and my final surgery, which were my last two phases over more than a year of treatment.) We are so busy being in "Warrior Mode" -- shuttling between appointments, just trying to get to the next phase, to ultimately reach the finish line -- to even think about the sheer magnitude of it all. (Every day is not all rah-rahs and ribbons, no matter what it looks like online...!)
My next bloodwork check-in with my oncologist is this week, and I would be lying if I said good ol' "scanxiety" wasn't kicking in again. Am I eating what I should? Am I exercising enough? Am I doing everything I can? How do I know it hasn't returned?? As survivors, we do our best to manage our new normal, but I personally know of many still trying to make sense of it all, while they experience ongoing feelings of fear, loss, depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Did we really just go through all that to never truly be free?