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To say it’s been a while since I’ve written is a gross understatement. It’s been six months!! At the time I remember thinking I would never feel right again. I had forgotten what “normal” felt like. Energy and motivation had become as foreign to my mind as the tumor was to my body. I lost interest in pretty much everything except feeling better. And Bridezillas. That’s the only show I could watch in my emotionally fragile state. Sure, the show is sad, but in a different way. Anything else, even the news, had the potential to open a flood gate of tears that would seemingly come out of nowhere. My boyfriend finally stopped asking what’s wrong every time he saw me in tears because the answer was always the same, “I don’t know. I just started crying!” And it was true. I honestly didn’t know. He also stopped showing me Youtube videos of anything other than animals doing wildly hilarious things. Even a touching animal rescue story with a wonderfully happy ending would leave my boyfriend looking absolutely perplexed as I sobbed over why the animal needed rescuing in the first place, instead of just being happy for the animal now. I guess it’s safe to say my mind wasn’t in a strong place. I stayed away from Facebook for a while as well because well-intentioned friends would send me inspirational stories of people with cancer who did incredible things. Before they died :/. Seriously.
So I was a little off emotionally. Physically, well that just plain sucked. The pain I felt during the four months of chemotherapy was sharp and miserable. It came like clockwork the day after each chemo treatment and lasted about a week. My bones and muscles would ache to the point where even a gentle hug hurt. I cursed the brick-paved roads that rattled my body with every car ride. On two occasions the pain was so severe I had Greg rush me to the ER because I was convinced something was wrong. “Describe the pain,” doctors would say. “Well,” I’d start, “it feels like some of my ribs are shattered and the jagged edges of the bone are zigzagging back and forth through my chest, turning it into a bloody pulp of muscle and lung.” I tend to be a bit dramatic. Both times, after numerous x-rays and urine samples, I was told the pain is a normal part of the healing process as the tumor shrinks and the dead cancer cells slough off. Both times I was prescribed enough pain killers to kill a small horse. The meds never seemed to work 100%. On the pain, I mean. I never tried to kill a small horse with them. Just the thought probably would’ve sent me into another bout of uncontrollable tears.
Besides the pain, fatigue hovered over me like a worried parent, always ushering me into a dream if I happened to do something crazy that day, like go to the grocery store. Everything looks like a petri dish of bacteria when your immune system is so weak, and everything becomes a colossal effort when you’re so tired all the time. I hated the fact that I left so many texts, emails, tweets and comments unreturned. If you were one of them please don’t be offended, even my medical bills slid from the To-do box and into a pile of apathy. I’m still sorting through that pile.
So you can imagine my relief when I finished chemo at the end of July. I naively thought my journey was over. Chemo is done! Let’s put it all behind us now and let bygones be bygones. You see, before I got cancer the only thing I really knew about it was whatever I had seen on Breaking Bad. Oh how pitifully innocent I was to the vile ways of cancer and its cohort, chemo. They were far from finished with me.
So that is just a small explanation of why I’ve been MIA. I plan to go into more details about the last six months in more blogs to come. They get more and more positive, I promise :). I actually tried to go back to work twice, but both times I wasn’t ready. I’ll write about my recovery, the good and the bad, including my struggle with a different kind of addiction (no, NOT to pain killers) (and not to Candy Crush Saga) (well… I AM addicted to Candy Crush but I’m not exactly struggling with it).
Anyway, the real reason for this newest update can be seen in this photo of me without my shirt on.
There it is. A bare bones look into the very depths of my heart if ever you question my love for you. Just kidding. The Before picture shows a 13 cm tumor awkwardly growing against my lung and heart. The After photo shows nothing!!! Just a black hole where my heart should be. No. Wait, that IS my heart. But the tumor is gone! My oncologist, Dr. Landau, says I am cancer free!!!! I made him repeat it a few times, “So you mean, like… GONE? No cancer? Not like the there-are-cancerous-cells-but-if-I-eat-right-and-exercise- they-won’t-come-back kind of gone, but GONE?” Dr. Landau says yes! But I should still eat right and exercise.
I know, I know… I’ve been remiss in my updates :(. The honest reason is that cancer fights dirty. It grabs a fistful of your hair, pulls out your earrings and takes the first cheap shot it can get. When your opponent fights like that it’s hard to brace yourself for the next hit because you just don’t know where it will be coming from!
That’s how I’ve felt throughout this cancer experience. One day I’m feeling great, the next day I’m rushing to the hospital for an emergency blood transfusion (that’s happened THREE times now!). My hemoglobin levels are constantly dropping, my immune system is weak and as a result I’ve had to contend with various complications like an intestinal virus (yuck), a lung infection (possibly pneumonia), an inflammation in my chest, etc. etc. All of that on top of the typical aches and pains. Right now I’m dealing with the worst mouth sores EVER; they’re pretty much like canker sores. They’re holding my tongue hostage and have set up little soldiers all the way down my throat and throughout my digestive track. Every time I try to talk or eat they fire off a painful reminder that they’re in charge. I hate them. I’ve been super fatigued lately as well. If there was a movie role where the character stayed inside and slept all day I’d win an Oscar.
However, ALL that being said… I have so much happy news to report! First, the lymphoma tumor is almost gone!!! It’s melting like butter! And second… I am finished with chemotherapy!! Can you believe it’s been only a little more than four months since I was diagnosed?? It’s crazy to think that time has flown by, but it has! And I’m grateful for that, among thousands of other things. My recovery is far from over. In fact, doctors have told me to brace myself for the most severe fatigue I’ve ever felt. Six rounds of chemotherapy ravages your body and now it’s time to rebuild. I’m certainly feeling it now which is why it has taken me so long to get back on here. I tend to nod off a lot. I’ve never felt fatigue like this. My friend Kevin asked me today if I’m starting to run out of dreams because I sleep so much. Haha, it’s a very “Kevin” question but no, I still have plenty of dreams ;).
So right now I’m going to work on getting my energy back. I can’t wait for my eyelashes, eyebrows and hair to grow back. Even my shadow catches me off guard sometimes :(.
And I definitely can’t wait until I have the strength to get back to work! Once again, all of the well-wishes, thoughts and prayers you send me light up my heart and strengthen my soul. I’m pretty sure if anyone were to walk into my house and make a wish it would be granted because there is so much positive energy being sent my way it’s swirling around my home and it’s already granted my wish :).
There’s a simple explanation for why it has taken me so long to get back on here and jet out another update: Cancer. People can tell you cancer is a bitch but until she runs her blackened claws through your hair and you feel the bitter coldness of her tongue mark you with a capital C as you tremble with fear and uncertainty you don’t quite understand the depths of her depravity… especially when she partners up with the other big C: Chemotherapy.
Back in February I was at Centra Care getting antibiotics for what I thought was pneumonia. If you had asked me if I had any trips planned for the summer I would’ve told you about Greg’s niece’s baptism in New Jersey, or my brother and sister-in-law’s first baby due in July in Utah, or the wedding in Vegas we were planning to attend, or the Jay-Z concert in August. I never imagined the only trips I would be taking would be to the cancer center for chemotherapy. It’s amazing how much life can change in such a short amount of time.
LESS THAN THREE MONTHS AGO…
Less than three months ago… I used razors. Now there’s nothing to shave. Anywhere. See? There’s a positive! (no, there’s not a photo)
Other changes? Some days my bones feel too brittle to open up a bottle of water. The only time we’ve gone out to eat has been at the hospital cafeteria (fortunately, my mom does to food what Mother Nature does to sunsets; makes every meal a unique explosion of awesomeness. It’s like we have our own personal Betty Crocker!).
The first two or three bites I take of any meal send these weird, painful cramps shooting through the salivary glands of my jaw. Just another odd side-effect, I’m told. If the jaw pain doesn’t discourage me from eating, the mouth sores usually do. Canker-like sores pop up on my tongue and all throughout the back of my throat. They only hang around for a week at the most but they’re proving to be a rather effective form of losing weight. If only that was my goal.
Oh, and I guess it isn’t just your hair you lose when going through chemo. My nail beds are starting to darken so I shouldn’t be too surprised if my nails start to come off.
So all of this I’ve been experiencing just in the past three months. It’s been moving so quickly! Every day the thing I pray for the most is the strength to stay positive and follow the #1 piece of advice I get from everyone: Take it one day at a time. It sounds so cliché but it’s so true! I barely recognize the life I lived less than three months ago, and it’s even harder for me to imagine what a “normal” life will be like when this is all over, so the best I can do is concentrate on today. And I’ve learned to treat every day like a learning experience instead of a hassle. It’s easier to keep your spirits up that way. You know what else keeps my spirits up? All of the comments on Facebook and Twitter, and the emails I receive every day that rally for me to stay strong, offer prayers, words of advice, or simply let me know they have been there, too. It has truly been overwhelming. Every positive word of encouragement warms my heart more than you know :).
Day 4 of chemotherapy and I have been blessed with no bad reactions to the cocktail of drugs that flow into my veins 24 hours a day. Unless you count the 18 pounds of fluid that have accumulated around my belly. 18 POUNDS!!!
That extra umbilical chord is a tube that drains other fluids from around my heart into a plastic bottle shaped like a grenade. It hangs like an annoying nut sack below my waist and the doctor won’t remove it until it only produces 30 ml of fluid in a 24-hour period. Several times now I’ve woken up and realized that what I thought was another bout of night sweats was actually that disgusting Kool-aid-like fluid sticking to my pajamas because I accidentally popped the cap off the bottle in my sleep. That’s happened more than once! I’ve started taping it shut now.
That fluid is the result of the tumor that lingers near my right lung like the weirdo at a party that wasn’t invited by anyone. My doctors say my violent coughing fits are a sign that the tumor is already shrinking because my lungs are getting more air. I’d cheers to that if I could take a breath long enough to do so.
So this is the first of six chemo treatments. Each time I’ll spend five days in the hospital hooked up to an IV. It’s rather anti-climactic. Just a lot of reading, staring at the wall, sending reassuring texts to family and friends who can’t be here and making small-talk with those who are. Then I’ll go home for 7 to 10 days of what doctors are warning could be a misery worse than any hell that even Stephen King could imagine. They don’t say it like that, but that’s how I picture it in my head. What they say instead is, “You COULD experience nausea.” Or, “You COULD get mouth sores that run down your throat and into your stomach.” Or, “You MAY not even experience any symptoms at all!!!” They claim that sometimes happens. I‘ll let you know if I‘m one of the lucky ones.
What doctors do seem certain about is that I will feel extremely fatigued. I’m already starting to feel it. It’s giving me an awesome excuse to lay around in bed and sleep all day. You’d think that would get old but, eh, hasn’t happened yet! Then after the 7 to 10 days of supposed “hell” are over I will have six or seven days where I will allegedly feel great! That’s when it’s best to have visitors. Then I come back in for another five days of chemo. There’s no telling when my hair will start to fall out. One doctor says in three weeks I’ll notice an uncomfortable feeling in my head as clumps start to come out. Another doctor says it may not happen for a few months. They all try to keep it positive by saying, “And some people don’t lose their hair at all!” Again, I’ll let you know if I’m one of the lucky ones.
Oh, and another side effect? Remember that 18 pounds of fluid I mentioned earlier? It’s starting to drain. The typical way. Through my bladder. I’ve gone to the bathroom 11 times since I sat down to write this. I’m two bathroom breaks away from buying Depends.