The longer I’m on this journey, the more I realize that people have a lot of questions. My husband and I have said from the beginning that we only wanted two things from this: for God to get all of the glory and for people to experience His absolute goodness and love. Some have travelled this journey and have had a very different experience than I’ve had. I’m not naïve in believing that we all have faced the same things. I simply want to share with you what I’ve experienced and maybe answer some questions you’ve been asking or have been too afraid to ask. Here are some of the “most popular topics” of conversation.
Order of Things
I’ve known several women to have surgery before chemo and that seems to be the question on everyone’s mind when they talk to me. There are several factors that play a role in deciding the order of treatment. Because my cancer is Stage 3 and spreading, coupled with the fact that the tumor was 5cm (the size of a large plum), I had to undergo chemo immediately. The plan in place was six rounds of chemo every three weeks to shrink the tumor and stop the spread. Once this is complete, I’ll have four to six weeks of radiation along with a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. I’m taking it one step at a time, so I’m not sure of the order coming up. A good friend of mine told me in the beginning to “trust the process” and precious Grandma Polly’s words, “Just sit pretty,” echo in my soul. I trust God and I trust my healthcare team at McLeod in Florence.
Chemo days are tough because I have to be dropped off at the door of the hospital and walk in alone. Once inside, my spirits are lifted by the security guard. (It could be the sausage biscuit he knows is coming every three weeks.) I spend the day in a small room, either in a recliner or hospital bed. I prefer the recliner because the bed makes me feel like I’m actually a sick person and it’s a little depressing to be honest. Between two and three tubes of blood are run in the lab to check blood counts before any treatment can begin. Once the labs come back good, I get steroids, fluids, and antibiotics. One of these causes me to taste metal. I don’t mean a subtle taste like you get with a CT scan; I’m talking about “sucking on pennies that have been in your car’s ashtray for ten years” metal taste. Another of them makes my heart race and palpitate (I’m pretty sure that’s the steroid). The other one literally feels like tiny, angry ants in my pants having a picnic. Once all of this is complete, I have four bags of chemotherapy drugs. The whole process takes around seven hours. Since I receive so much by IV, I had surgery in September to have a port placed on the right side of my chest. The nurses don’t have to search for a vein each time I have treatment; they simply feel for the port under my skin and place the needle inside. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but it gets me every time. I’ve almost slid out of the recliner on two occasions, but I’m so glad the nurses don’t have to endure searching for my tiny, rolling veins each time.
Treatment Day, I’m super energized for about two hours after. (Again, it’s those steroids!) I’m usually extremely hungry which has only fueled my love for the food and people at Waffle House. This is also why I’ve GAINED weight while on chemo. Day Two, I’m sore from sitting all day and a little nauseous. This is also the day my husband removes the Neulasta shot pod from my arm. This medicine in combination with the chemo makes my body go crazy over the next few days. Day Three to Day Five or Six, I’m like an angry, hungry zombie who has a racing mind and insides that literally feel like they’re jumping. Sleep comes in short naps (day and night) with hot flashes from the pits of Hell. My three boys (11, 7, and 4) take on the housework as best they can because my energy is completely gone. It’s all I can do on these days to get them to school and pick them up. If someone from LMA isn’t bringing us a meal on these days, Mr. Bubba at Traditions Catering usually calls to say he has a meal prepared. It’s amazing how God has worked out the detail of dinner! My husband has continued to work a relatively normal schedule, but when he gets home, he takes on the day-to-day things for our boys like homework, baths, laundry, dishes, etc. I was truly blessed when God gave me him as a helpmate. Each day, after Day Six, I feel more and more “normal.” My energy level is still extremely low, but the nausea wears off and the body aches subside. The day before treatment, I usually feel like I can take on the world so that’s when I do most of my errands that require being in public. (By the way, if you see me in public and my mask is pulled down please know that I’m simply trying to breathe. Shortness of breath is also a side effect of the chemo and I’m trying to stay alive. I’m not careless or nasty, I just need oxygen.)
I began losing my hair after the first treatment. It didn’t come out all at once, but more like a steady thinning. When it started falling out by the handfuls, I called my Battle Buddy (Jen Erickson) and she helped my family give me a buzz cut. At this point of the journey, I was feeling extremely out of control. By cutting my hair short I felt empowered, like I finally got to make a decision during this process. (I was also tired of using the lint roller constantly, sweeping the bathroom 84 times a day, and cleaning the tub drain.) I’ve experienced extreme thinning (picture a dog with a bad case of mange) of the hair on my head. I have no nose hairs left. Praise the Lord, I haven’t had to shave my legs in months! My eyelashes have thinned significantly but I still have eyebrows.
My chemo journey is nothing what I imagined. I understand that it doesn’t look like every other warrior’s battle. What I know for sure is that attitude plays a major role in healing; not just cancer, but healing of any kind. I will continue, even on the bad days, to search for the goodness offered. Sometimes it’s like playing hide and seek, but most days I am overwhelmed at the vastness of God’s love for us. His love reaches us when we’re standing at the peak of the mountain and when we’re laying in the lowest valley. His love endures forever.