The first person I ever spoke with about cancer treatments was a work friend of mine, Nadine. Nadine was a very strong woman about 45 years old. She was a biker and hiker, incredibly fit and physically strong, and took very good care of herself. And then she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatment. One day, she came to visit me. She had three chemo treatments left. As we talked about the difficulty of chemo, she started sobbing. "I don't know how I can get through another treatment," she said. I cried with her as she described how awful the treatments made her feel. If Nadine had a hard time handling chemo, it really must be more horrible than I could possibly fathom.
A few years later, I learned that my good friend, Lisa, had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer that had spread into her kidneys and stomach. She was 37 years old and had four young children and an ex husband who was a drug addict and alcoholic and unfit to care for the children. She fought her cancer as long as she could but passed away about eight months after diagnosis.
A few months after I was diagnosed, my friend, Mandy, was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer that had spread to her liver. She is now undergoing chemo indefinitely. She is a year younger than I am. She had a colostomy last year. She has two young daughters and, at least, a decent husband who is standing by her side.
My friend, Linda (who, by the way, used to work for my ex husband, Bob) was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. She treated it with chemo and radiation and now is fighting to stay in remission with alternative therapies. She called me on the phone many months ago to tell me that my relationship with Bob made me sick-- that an abusive relationship can physically poison the victim. Yes, I know. Sick relationships equal sick physical bodies. It's hard to come to terms with that. Really hard.
My ex fiancé, Keith, has a daughter who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and, just months later, her husband was diagnosed with lymphoma.
I was getting my weekly labs and velcade injections and I saw a woman who looked much like I did a year ago. She had no hair, no eyelashes and no eyebrows and she looked very sick. Last year, I laid in that exact same bed, puking my guts out because I was so ill. I had recently had a pick line installed in my jugular vein in my neck that ended up staying there for a week. It was the most uncomfortable thing one can imagine. I took a few pain killers one night and had a horrible reaction to it. Add to that, I had no immune system and was taking all kinds of chemo into my veins. Bad combination. I wanted to sit next to that woman and hug her and cry with her. I so felt her pain.
As I was leaving that same appointment, there was a woman waiting at radiation. She was sitting in a wheel chair, looking so thin and frail, wearing a beanie cap on her head, huddled underneath a blanket.
I was so angry and sad and heartbroken when I left. Cancer sucks. It is evil and hard and horrible.
I was very fortunate to have some really good weeks where I felt, all things considered, pretty good. But this past week, velcade/dex has kicked my ass. I have experienced extreme fatigue. My heart races and my body just shuts down. When I rest, it's not like I sleep-- it's more of a slip into temporary unconsciousness. My ribs have hurt. Yesterday, I had a relatively pain free day. Except I think they hurt when I went to bed. Or was that a dream? I'm not quite sure. Yesterday, I was driving to the AF hospital to pick up a 24-hour collection kit and as I got near, I couldn't remember where I was going or why. I drove around for several minutes trying to collect my thoughts before it came to me. Chemo brain is definitely raging. Part of the reason I had great weeks is that I got a week off from treatments. What a difference that made! Of course, now that I am back in treatment, all the nasty side effects are back. It's like the medicines are saying to me, "Ha! You think you can get away without us? Think again! Now we're going to make you feel doubly awful. Hahahaha."
Abby, one of my PAs, said that many people take a break during their year of maintenance because they get sick from something else. And while they're taking that break from treatments, they feel better than ever. It sucks but life saving treatments make you feel like hell. Or at least, they make me feel like hell.
When my friend, Lisa, was passing away, we talked. She said that she was done with treatments, that she was exhausted and she could go no farther. I didn't understand it then. I do now. I'm nowhere near that, trust me! But I get it when people just get tired.
My life has changed forever. I don't see the world the same way. I would love to go back to the innocence I had when it came to my health. I felt healthy. I took care of myself. I just had no idea how hard fighting was. I miss those days of not thinking about blood tests, markers, needles, treatments, calendars, oncologists, and specialty pharmacies. My life will never be the same again. In some ways, that's good. I'm a much better person. This is a very hard road to travel but here I am and I will make the most of it. Today I have a little pitty party. Tomorrow will be better.