A Surprising Combination: Chemotherapy and Gratitude

Chemo is wrecking me. Shouldn’t be surprising considering my body tends to be sensitive to what I put in it. But with all the docs insisting that chemo isn’t what it used to be, I wasn’t expecting it to be this hard. I’ve learned in the last week that women who get sick during pregnancy (check) tend to get more nauseated with chemo; as do premenopausal women (another check).

I’m learning patterns, though who knows yet that they are, in fact, patterns versus simply what each day brings for now. But it seems that, now that the nausea is subsiding, I feel best in the morning, which is a wonderful relief. On Saturday, the first day that I woke up to this feeling better, I clearly overdid it with the excitement of it all. Family breakfast at the Green Bean, an hour of holiday shopping with Josh while Annie watched the kids, some tidying around the house. By midday I was back in bed where I spent most of the next two days getting more acquainted with my nausea.

Though I haven’t embarked on any other grand outings since Saturday (unless you count the Baystate Cancer Center on Tuesday or the twelve minute walk on the bike path on Monday), the last couple of mornings have been rather lovely; and by midday—after the exertion, perhaps, of a bath; an email, maybe two; fifteen minutes of reading; half an hour of focused time with my children, all of this interspersed with much lying around on the couch or in bed—I am fairly down for the count again.

I’ve had to ask for more help than I’m comfortable with. Though I’ve also had to ask for far less than what continues to be offered, day after day after day.

Because of the intensity of my reaction, it became clear that we really need someone here round the clock by the time I have my next treatment on Monday. Either that or Josh takes a leave from school, which I am hoping he won’t have to do. (Though I have no idea how he carries on with such compassion and focus and grace, leaving at 6 a.m. for what would be one of the most intense rotations on the best of days, thinking, working, caring for people all day long, then coming home to care for me and the kids with yet more compassion and focus and grace.)

So Annie, my godsend of a godmother (I have so many godsends these days), is people holding handscoming back from Hunter Mountain Sunday through Thursday before she flies back to San Francisco for the winter. Jenae, one of my many godsends of a friend, comes up from Brooklyn Thursday through Sunday. My sister-in-law Aimee comes from New Jersey Sunday through Tuesday. And then both of my parents arrive, Tuesday afternoon, for an indefinite amount of time. Phew to all of that. Phew to my amazing village.

Somehow, my spirits are intact, though I can’t say I understand it. Except that what they say about gratitude must be true. It brightens everything. Today I got to play cribbage with Harrison before he went off to be a very happy kid at his friend’s house; and later, when Sophie came home a very happy kid from her playdate, I got to sit with her in my lap in our comfy blue chair and laugh for a good twenty minutes about whatever one laughs about with a six year old. It was a good day.

Today was made possible by three different godsend families. Yesterday, another whole set of three. The day before that…. People just keep coming and offering and taking such care. My spirits are buoyed by gratitude.

I turned forty with breast cancer

I turned forty today, Sunday, November 23, 2015, one month after being diagnosed with breast cancer and five days after starting what is showing itself to be debilitating chemotherapy. So far, it’s wrecking me with nausea, mostly, but also fatigue, and in the hours just before I turned forty, diarrhea throughout the night.

Finally, finally, I got things under control later this morning. And even though lying in bed with breast cancer and fairly broken by chemo is a sad way to spend my fortieth, I felt such relief about feeling some relief, that I found myself also feeling grateful.

Maggie (the closest thing I have to a sister, as well as my Harrison’s godmother, and my soul mate and best friend and and and….) and Barry (her husband and Harrison’s godfather and a particularly stellar human being) came over with their boys and with so many flowers and with bagels that, miracle of miracles, I actually found delicious. Josh and the kids showered me with tender cards and precious gifts and the kind of love that I’m certain not many people on the planet ever experience, at least not in such purity and abundance.

Back in bed after the bagels, laid out on my fortieth because of breast cancer and chemo, I felt a strength that I don’t fully know yet. It was clear as could be that this is changing me, will change me, will help me become more of whomever it is I want to be in this life. There is meaning in here somewhere. There is a life cakethat I’ve always wanted to live that I will uncover on this path. THAT is what I am taking for my fortieth birthday.

Chemo is kicking my ass

I went downhill quick after my first chemo infusion yesterday. By 4:30 yesterday afternoon (three hours after leaving the Cancer Center), I felt much worse than expected. Because of a headache, I couldn’t open my eyes to any light until this morning. I was terribly nauseated and unable to eat or drink just about anything. I did manage to get down a small bowl of plain yogurt with raspberries and later, a couple of homemade cranberry popsicles. Josh and Annie and I talked with the on-call doctor a couple of times, who walked us through some options and also said they would tweak my nausea meds at my next chemo infusion. My oncologist has stressed several times that chemo is not what it used to be, that there are such great nausea meds now, that most people feel okay. Perhaps I am the exception.

Chemotherapy: Day One

I’m just home from my first chemotherapy infusion. I crawled into bed because I’m tired and I’m not sure what else to do with myself and because it’s warm and safe in here and because I can. Annie is getting the kids and shuttling them to after school commitments, so I have a little quiet, which is nice.IMG_0004

I feel so much more solid today than yesterday. I’m less sore from the port, plus not emotionally fragile and quiet. It was oddly nice to feel the way I did yesterday—to feel. Not that I’m not feeling things, but as I’ve written before, sometimes it all feels too normal.

Though I did register at the chemo center (chair #4) that this whole thing is f—ing surreal: Who am I to be getting chemo therapy?! But here I am, and it is strangely normal now, my new normal, and I continue to feel strangely okay with it. Like, “This is what’s before me now, so this is what I’m doing, one foot in front of the next.”

I am eager to get more answers, this time about how I respond to chemo, when my good and bad days will be, what I’ll be fine to manage on my own, what I’ll want to eat and do and not eat and not do. I feel hyper aware, waiting to feel something, anything, wondering whether every sensation is something or nothing.

My first surgery: I now have a port

I felt quite fragile today. Weepy at times like I haven’t been/felt since that first week of diagnosis-haze. The day started with me keeping my cool but with Harrison’s continued negativity and contrarian attitude weighing on me. I’m trying to be compassionate, trying to giving him the benefit of the doubt, though I do wonder whether he’d be acting this way regardless of the circumstances—is this what a 3rd grader looks like? It was a heavy walk to school, with him several feet ahead and “very upset” with me once again, this time because I said I wanted him to notice how much he’s been focusing on and talking about “the bad stuff” lately and rarely “the good.”

I felt my first watery eyes in weeks after dropping him and Sophie at school and walking back in the beautiful, gray drizzle.

“Maybe it’s just because of Harrison, wanting things to be easier with him,” I thought. But then insurance battles and more teary eyes, and the chemo information session during which, among other things, I registered for the first time that I would also be losiImageng my eyebrows and eyelashes. And then Annie, my godmother, drove me to the place where I was getting the port put in, and sitting in the waiting room, all I wanted to do was cry. But instead, I kept holding it together, holding it together, not wanting to let my guard down so completely.

I didn’t feel anything during the procedure. I came out groggy, exhausted, feeling fragile and embracing my fragility more publically. Moving slowly. Quietly. Gently.

I’m quite sore. And quite vulnerable. And quite wonderfully safe-feeling in my bed now, where I’ve spent most of the late afternoon and evening, except for going downstairs to eat. We had a lovely “Chanukah” dinner, for which I am very grateful (Chanukah in quotes because it is weeks before Chanukah, but we always celebrate it when Annie comes to visit this time of year).

I’m also grateful for the time spent reading to Sophie in my bed, and especially grateful for the time spent with Harrison, when he crawled into my bed a bit before 9pm and I didn’t turn him away. We snuggled and talked and I let him fall asleep next to me. A gift a gift a gift that makes everything feel better.

Here we go. Tomorrow: Chemo.

Moving forward: Finally starting treatment!

Today I finally got all the necessary appointments in place to start chemo on Tuesday. I feel such relief at FINALLY having a plan and finally moving forward with it.

I also got the call today that I am BRCA negative. Sigh of relief—for me and for my children.

With the frenzy of doctor’s appointments over the past few several weeks, and the uncertainty about my test results and treatment plan and schedule, I have been literally unable to see or plan past a couple of days out. My friend Nuni wisely said that perhaps it was a good opportunity to live in the present. True. And yet, the uncertainty has caused a level of anxiety that I hope settles now that I will (hopefully) have a more predictable schedule and routine (never mind that the schedule and routine will include chemotherapy and sickness). Striking how much I crave predictability, as it turns out.

IMG_4914With the frenzy of the last weeks, I have also been frenzied with Harrison and Sophie. Today I made a commitment to myself to focus on the positive with them. To take a breath before I let my own stress come out on them with nagging criticism. To instead name the plethora of WONDERFULS about each of them. ESPECIALLY now, that’s what I want them to have from their Mama.

Last night out before chemo

Happy birthday to my love, Josh. We went out last night to celebrate, and this morning I woke up with the realization that it was likely my last night out on the 15456481530_c666a7c287_otown with my hair and my breasts intact. I felt pretty last night, I flirted, I felt confident. And now I think about how the next time I see many of those people, I’ll be in treatment, I’ll be bald, I’ll be who knows how sick. I’ll be the one in the room that people are pitying or feeling uncomfortable around or thinking, “She used to be so….”

Today our family of four spent the day together to celebrate Josh. I wish I could write that it was wonderful. I (all of us) really could have used that, but it was full of bumps. My stomach has been in knots, my mood on the edge the last several days, and I wonder whether I would feel this way regardless—it’s all very familiar, after all: the free-floating anxiety, the impatience, the edginess. But it’s hard not to wonder with every turbulence whether things would feel different had I not been diagnosed with breast cancer fewer than 3 weeks ago.

It breaks my heart to be edgy and impatient with the kids right now. Breaks my heart that today, our first family day with just the four of us in literally weeks—and probably one of our last for a good while (so many cancer-supporters cycling through our home these days)—was not blissful. I feel like I should be savoring life more than ever, not getting caught up in the pettiness. And yet… life and being human does go on, breast cancer or no breast cancer.