Put our heads down and power through

Now that chemo’s over and Andrea’s nearly completed her full recovery cycle (which means she’s about a week away from being able to be out in public without an elevated risk to her health), we can start thinking about the next stage of her cancer treatment… radiation.

We love Andrea’s radio-oncologist. He’s an incredibly nice and patient man. We experienced a remarkable trait of his during our consult with him last week; even though he may know where we’re going with a particular thought or question, he waits until we’ve finished speaking before responding. He doesn’t jump to conclusions or feel it necessary to cut short our thoughts.

Andrea will have a CT scan in the next few weeks. During that appointment, a technician will mark the two locations at which the radiation treatment will be directed. This ensures the treatment is always directed at the same spot.

Beginning in May, Andrea will have radiation treatments each weekday for six weeks. Despite the frequency and duration, radiation seems much less scary to me than did chemo. There are no meds, and no physically- or emotionally-crippling side effects.

We’ve been told to expect Andrea to feel fatigued over the course of the treatment as her body works to regenerate cells that are being killed off each day (just as it got the regeneration process underway from the previous round). We’ve also been told to expect that Andrea will present sunburn-like skin irritations and discolouration beginning in the treatment area around week four of the program.

After she powers through radiation, Andrea will begin hormone therapy. Given what we’ve been through, that’s not as far off in the future as it sounds.

Happiness is…

Healing.

Eleven days after my First Surgery

This gruesome* photo was taken 11 days after my first surgery (Oct. 26, 2009, lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node removal).

* don’t click if you’re squeamish

Four months after my Second Surgery

This much less gruesome* photo was taken exactly 4 months after my second surgery (Nov. 13, 2009, complete auxilliary lymph node removal).

* don’t click if you’re squeamish

Unbelievable. I am so grateful to the magic of the human body.

Oncology Update: Q & A

No surrogate at my pre-chemo#5 oncology appointment today. Here’s the scoop:

  • Can I avoid the full week of Taxotere-induced agony this round? If so, how?
    The answer was pretty much “Not really”. My oncologist entered the room shrugging and saying “I told you Taxotere would be bad”. She recommended I extend my steroids (dexamethasone) further beyond the 5x8mg doses and to take any combination of my many prescriptions that may help, as needed.
  • What’s her opinion of my long-debated bilateral mastectomy?
    My oncologist is not against the bilateral mastectomy and would support it if it puts my mind at ease. Apparently, though, there is no evidence that would prompt her to recommend it. She gave us the bad news that recurrence in the breast is not as likely as spread elsewhere in the body. Obviously, I can’t remove every organ in my body so I don’t think I’ll put myself through this major surgery “just in case”.
  • When does radiation start? And is it still within walking distance of our place?
    We will meet with our radio-oncologist in the near future to address these questions. It sounds like radiation is no longer available walking distance from our place, though. darn.
  • Can I ask now about plans for my ovaries?
    Yes, I was allowed to ask. The answer was, “We’ll see.”
  • What’s with the sunken, bright read hollows under each of my eyes?
    After hearing about the various possibilities of recurrence and spread of the cancer, I really didn’t care about the look of my face.
  • Is my 105 year old skin here to stay?
    See above.

Scary news or no, I still plan to survive and thrive.

Maybe not long enough to grow my own 105 year old skin, but for a long — healthy, happy — time.

And For My Next Trick…

Aside from the obvious feats for the squeamish (injections, surgeries, claustrophobic scans and implanted heart vein stuff), the past 3 months have provided me with opportunities to perform the following impressive stunts (please hum “The Final Countdown” while reading this list):

  • lasting 3 weeks — and counting — without entering a store, coffee shop or restaurant
  • grinning and bearing various brutally insensitive so-you’ve-got-cancer remarks
  • surviving Christmas Day without coffee or chocolate
  • juicing and guzzling a potent veggie combo every single morning for 10 weeks, and counting
  • popping more pills and supplements than in my entire pre-c life combined
  • wearing the same 8 or so tights, T & hoodie day in and day out for weeks
  • enduring outrageous family flare ups without losing my mind
  • peeing red (Epirubicin portion of FEC chemo)
  • peeing blue (radioactive dye)
  • sharing my home, against my will, with … wait for it … RATS (yup! the vermin moved in 4 weeks into this challenge and have yet to vamoose)

Ta da! (AD)

Journey Learning #1

Whether or not we believe this disease has intentionally presented itself to do so, it’s definitely encouraging me to learn and grow in ways that my stubborn adherence to justice, fear and inertia has always prevented.

So, while the medical gurus cut, stitch, poke, scan, radiate and infuse me, it seems my role in building a new, improved, bionic me is to grasp the many opportunities for learning and then to choose and use new beliefs, patterns and perspectives that will build a stronger, happier, healthier me.

Journey Learnings.

I’ll track them here, one at a time, in no particular order.  Let’s start with a big, small one:

Journey Learning #1: I can survive without coffee, sugar and red wine.

Whodathunkit?

Releasing the Genie

Encouraging words from Cheryl Swanson’s Busting Loose: Cancer Survivors Tell You What Your Doctor Won’t:

Somewhere in the midst of surgery or treatment or chemotherapy, your own genie is going to claw her way out of  your core. And there’s no putting her back in the bottle once she’s free. And that’s a good thing, even a great thing, because she’s going to help you sing your song and live your life for the rest of  your days.

The person you were before cancer? She suffered from an overload of personal anxiety and cultural repression.  Frankly, she wasn’t having as much fun as she could have had.

But she’s about to do something huge — survive a devastating disease

[…]

So, brace yourself […] It’s time to bust loose.

Cheryl Swanson, Busting Loose: Cancer Survivors Tell You What Your Doctor Won’t.
Zumaya Publications
, 2009

Head shaving party

It was 3 a.m. on the second day of her first chemo cycle and Andrea still couldn’t get to sleep. So she occupied herself with plans for shaving her head before her hair falls out — a certainty with breast cancer chemo. That’s when she pitched her idea to me (I was also awake). Inspired by a cancer blogger who lives in our neighbourhood (See going bald), Andrea suggested we invite a number of our family and friends over for munchies, drinks, cake and the opportunity to be a part of her head shaving experience.

That party happened last night (view photos). And with it, comes the launch of this website, WeCanRebuildHer.com.

We invite you to follow our journey to making Andrea a breast cancer survivor. We’ll blog our experiences and thoughts and share audio, video and photographs of the process — from diagnosis on Oct. 6  to Survivor.

Opening theme prepared by John Meadows. Closing song, Session, by the Robert Farrell Band.

Click here to subscribe to our blog/podcast.