The whirl wind of activity continues. Yesterday we met with the oncologist for the “Big Diagnosis and Treatment Plan” day. It was a day we had been holding our breaths for ever since the first biopsy confirmed I had cancer. Fortunately, it had been made easier by the knowledge that the cancer had not metastisized (spread) to another other organs or bone in my body. That is huge news in the cancer world and it significantly increases my prognosis. I was heading into the day confident and even a little happy to get a clearer picture for what my life was going to look like over the next few months.
Getting ready to meet with the oncologist, however, was a little funny. I stared at my closet trying to find the right outfit. Something professional, because of course I want him to like me. But at the same time I didn’t want to overdo it. Because, you know, I didn’t want to seem desperate. I landed on business casual which seems sensible enough, right? It was like getting ready for a first date and I’m only a little embarrased to admit it. I also had to pack a change of outfit for the MRI biopsy I had scheduled immediately after the oncologist. This can be tricky because after a biopsy I have to wear the same supportive but not too tight sports bra for at least two days to keep all the swelling down. I did an enie-meanie-many-moe approach to the three sports bras I currently have in rotation and threw in some pajama pants (no metal or clips, thank you!) to wear in the MRI machine so I would be comfortable. I am getting used to some of the hospital demands and am gaining a little control over this part of my life- even when it’s just sports bras and pajama pants.
The meeting with the oncologist was informative if not a little intimidating. I’m not used to being uneducated and I don’t like it. I have purposefully stayed away from googling my condition because I have never found that to be a peaceful or productive experience. WebMD always tells me I have cancer when I just have a headache so I don’t dare think what it will tell me when I input cancer as my primary condition. Skulls and crossbones will probably light up the screen.
Also, I am a professional and an expert in my work. People rely on my training, experience, and judgment to solve their complex issues. I know that level of competency cannot be substituted by a few hours searching the web. Likewise, I have not attended medical school or spent decades researching and treating cancer. The result is that in these appointments I don’t know the language and I can’t get ahead of the concepts. I feel like my mind is always trailing behind- usually delayed by language I don’t understand and emotions that bubble up when confronted with words like “aggressive” and “unknown” are raised.
Fortunately, my oncolcogist is a very bright physician with an excellent bedside manner. He explained the medications I will take over the next 20 weeks will hopefully shrink and kill off the tumor(s). The neo-adjuvant treatment (meaning chemo you get before surgery) works really well against my cancer. Because my cancer is aggressive, so too will be my treatment. For a lot of reasons, it’s going to be a tough row to hoe. I will get powerful chemo in 2 week intervals to begin over the first 8 weeks, then chemo every week for the following 12 weeks. This will be rough on my system because my white blood cells and bone marrow will not have enough time to fully regenerate between cycles. I will be prone to illness and infection. I will certainly be very fatigued. I will lose my hair. I will feel sick and not have much energy. It will be hard to work and I will feel lousy.
Two weeks after chemo ends in mid July, I will have surgery. We don’t know the extent of that surgery until the genetic testing is back. If this is genetic the likilhood that it will reoccur is higher so that will probably mean a double masectomy. I like the “less is more” approach to surgical intervention so I’m hoping for as little surgical involvement (read: easier recovery) as possible. The invasiveness of the surgery will also depend on the size of the tumor(s). After surgery, it’s radiation every day for several weeks. Hopefully that kills the bastard. I will continue on with one of the therapies that targets the Her2/neu cancer for one year total, with injections occuring weekely to lower my risk of the cancer returning.
I’m pretty sure I will be close friends with the cancer center staff by the time I’m through.
Oddly enough, the biggest setback of the day (beyond the more aggressive Stage diagnosis and longer chemo schedule and one year of having a port in my body) was that they could not get me scheduled in time to start chemo this week. It means, more likely than not, that I will not be able to participate in The Run to the Pub-a race I’ve enjoyed for years. I know cancer is going to completely interfere with my life. However, it’s hard to think about cancer preventing me from being the person I am. Am I bummed to lose my hair? Sure. Is it frustrating and overwhelming how much cancer interferes with my career and family? Absolutely. But the idea that maybe I wouldn’t be an athlete right now- the idea that I might not get be something that defines me- wounds me more than anything.
Running has always allowed me to lighten my burdens. It is simple and rythmic and totally predictable. It’s my outlet when I feel threatened or out of control. I have been doing it since I was 12-years-old. So yeah, losing this race stings and it brings to mind that there will be a lot of grieving around cancer. This is just part of it.
But as I talked with a new friend today, she pointed out that this new path, while sometimes full of suffering, is the same path that shows us the best in life. Cancer will show me the best in others, the best in myself, and the best in my circumstances. It’s a high price to pay, but through this I already can see how some truly amazing and beautiful things are folding out before me. Things I would have never had the opportunity to see or feel otherwise. My connections with people are more sincere, more heartfelt, and more real.
I love that about cancer. If took getting this disease and staring down death and chosing to survive and thrive, then good. I’m better for it.
Besides, maybe I’ll toe the line to that race anyway. Maybe I’ll only make it a few blocks or a few miles. Who cares. I just want to go out and be among the atheletes and feel that electricity of people who are excited to do what they love. It will be good for my soul. If I’m too sick, maybe I’ll set up a lawn chair and shake a cowbell at the fine folks in green that run by.
The final thing I want to share is that right now in my world everything can change in a second. I have to be strong when I don’t feel strong. That usually just means reevaluating the situation and looking at whether the thing is the problem or my response to the thing is the problem. Like today when I was getting my port in. I have to remind myself that I’m okay right this second and not think about the next second or the thousand seconds that I know are coming after that. The fear of everything that is so new and scary will chew me up and spit me out if I let it. So I’m learning to not give so much of my power away. Instead, I breath, I slow down, I scan my body and realize I’m physically okay right this second. And I work with that. When I start to think about this killing me I always come back to “but not today”. It’s mind over matter. It’s all that crap we’ve been reading for years on inspirational posters and in the best speeches and movies and novels. But it’s only true when you actually need it to be. So cancer has given me that gift. The gift of strength, the gift of courage, and the gift of self-control. How fortunate I am to be here in my life even when it sometimes is pretty brutal. It’s going to be okay in the end.
Give em’ hell.