Work

city-mill-at-nightWhen I was diagnosed in 2012, I had been a stay-at-home mother for many years. This time around, I’ve been employed at the same company for almost three years.

My situation is not one I discuss with many people at work. I have a few friends to whom I confide about my health and I am keeping all of my supervisors up to date. I don’t like sharing things like this. This diagnosis, though, has been harder to keep quiet about.

For almost a year, I had been a sales associate, which involves crazy amounts of heavy lifting and walking and climbing. Becoming a sales associate was a physically demanding change, so much so that I knew I couldn’t continue to perform these duties given my recent challenges. I went back to being a cashier. My coworkers have questions about this. I don’t know what to tell them.

I don’t want to be That Lady With Cancer. My reluctance to discuss the change in my job description stems from sheer vanity. I don’t want them to think of me as some sick person. I’m still me. I’m still showing up to work and doing the things I’m supposed to do. I’m embarrassed that I’ve had to ask to be let out of a promotion I begged for. The idea of my coworkers being afraid to talk to me is even more embarrassing.


The tamoxifen doesn’t seem to have the same side effects I noticed at first. In fact, I feel a little better. I wish I had just stayed with it. I’m not having trouble functioning. With my job, I feel a sense of purpose, I guess, that mitigates the mushy-brain feeling.

Next up, I schedule my oophorectomy.

Advertisements

I heard from a high school friend recently

IMG_1556I heard from a high school friend recently. She wrote to me to tell me that she’d recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Shw went on to tell me that she’d been following my cancer blog, which had been sorely neglected. I kept meaning to update. I wanted to make time to write and tell everyone that I had completed treatment and was in good health. My husband urged me to post a small entry, at the very least.

I wrote in an early entry that if my blog helped one person, it would have made me happy. It did help my friend, who was diagnosed after she discovered that her symptoms were similar to mine. I’d saved her life, she said.

I’ve been spending a lot of time this week wondering why this is happening. As a recovering Catholic, I am quite familar with the concepts of guilt and retribution, and as illogical as it sounds, I guess some small part of me still thinks I’d caused this to happen, that I’d brought it on myself.

It turns out that breast cancer metastasizes into bone cancer more often than one might think. It’s not a rare occurrence. I didn’t know this. I didn’t know that cancer like mine can be treated as a chronic condition and controlled. I didn’t know these things, despite the reading and research I’d done. I suppose I thought that I was done with the whole experience. I am not, so I will continue to share what I learn at this particular rodeo. Science is discovering new things about cancer every day.

During the past three weeks, I’ve had an X-ray, CT scan, a bone scan, an MRI, a bone biopsy and an annual pelvic exam that was only slightly less awful than a root canal. Later this month, I will have my ovaries removed. The focus of my treatment at this stage is to completely remove all sources of estrogen from my body. I am told that the ovary removal process is a very simple outpatient procedure. I’ll be in and out of the office in a couple of hours.

While this is happening, my daughter is starting her freshman year of college. This round of the battle, coupled with the ache of missing her, is exhausting me. My faith in her to put her head down and get through her studies is what keeps me going. I am also still working at my part-time job, where they have been wonderful at making concessions for me and trying to help in any way they can.

So many people have been where I am now. I wish I knew how to get through like they have.

Season 2, Episode 1

The first time, cancer was scary because we had no idea what was coming. This time, it’s scary because we do.

Last week, Facebook surfaced this photo from four years ago. Happy memories, it turns out.

Last week, Facebook surfaced this photo from four years ago. It sparked surprisingly happy memories.

It’s been four years since Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat it back with a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, plus a long recovery that included suddenly curly hair and unexpectedly messy (but ultimately successful) reconstructive surgery.

It was very, very hard. I know it was, though looking back now, it’s hazy and hard to remember everything. I know it tested us, and even broke her, and me, a few times.

But we made it through. Our kids made it through. And these last four years have been some of the best years. Continue reading

The good news

I’m a working mother. I’m a cancer survivor.

I was warned by doctors and fellow survivors of a condition called “chemo brain”. More than any other possible side effect — more than hair loss, more than nausea, more than the thought of death itself — loss of my cognitive function scared me. I read that the effects of chemotherapy on the body and the mind can last for years after treatment. Hair grows back, I reasoned. When one’s mind is gone, is it gone forever?, I wondered.

11376233_821644431260761_2003051089_nThe bad news is that maybe it’s true. Perhaps one does not ever truly recover from the effects of chemo and radiation. Maybe western cancer treatment is hopelessly outdated at best and barbaric at worst. I have good days and I have not-so-good days, three years after treatment ended for me. I have a little less stamina; I’m sometimes not as able to focus as I once was.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter to me.

Cancer was a terrible experience. I would not wish cancer on anybody. As traumatic as it was, however, it taught me a few things. It taught me how to be compassionate; it taught me the meaning of love. It taught me to let go.

At one point, I realized that I’m still alive. I’d beaten the odds. My cancer hadn’t spread past my lymph nodes and I had a very good chance of living to be an old woman. I also realized that life is short and very fragile.

I have spent a very good part of my life worrying. I am a worrier by nature. I used to cope with everyday life by worrying about minor details. I still find myself stressing about things that are beyond my control. I’ve learned to control it, though. I’ve gone to therapy. I’ve learned that after the first degree burn on my chest that I got during radiation, nothing hurts. I’ve learned that I used my intuition and my brain to figure out that something was wrong before it was too late. I’ve learned what love is. All those things combined have brought me to a more peaceful place.

Originally posted on Medium.

my shoes

I recently learned that around the time I was beginning chemo, an old friend died of brain cancer.  We met in high school and kept in touch on and off.  I knew he was sick but I was hopeful that he would get better.

I didn’t believe at the time things could be worse for me.  Even though the outlook for my health was good, it didn’t even occur to me that someone I knew and liked could be worse off than me.

I’ve been thinking about that lately; about how none of us ever really know what’s going on with other people.  I’m guilty at sneering at people for getting elective surgery and now I know that I was misguided.

I went in for a second consultation with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Paul Faringer, and scheduled my reconstruction for September 25.

Tripler

I’ve spent the last few months being angry at my dad.

When he and my mom planned to come to visit in December, and he elected to stay home, it hurt me.  I was convinced he was being selfish and he didn’t care about me.

He made it to Hawaii last week, with my mom, and for his troubles, he spent the week at Tripler hospital.  He experienced some sort of illness on the flight over and was admitted the next day.  I was only able to visit him once.

I’m angry at myself for wasting so much time being mad at him.  I knew flying was difficult for him.  Now, I don’t know if he can ever make the trip out here again.  I feel guilty.  I miss him and I’d do anything for just a few more minutes with him.  

I’m hoping we can visit Florida in the next year or so.  It’s probably the only way I can see him. I used to get so homesick.  For years, all I wanted to do was move back to Florida so I could be close to my folks.  It wore off quickly.  Now I anticipate a trip back there with something next door to dread.  Florida is a reminder of things past, not all of them good.  I still have friends there, though, and just to see them again could make it worthwhile.  

———————-

I had my annual echocardiogram today.  Everything looks fine.

 

blob

I found myself in a plastic surgeon’s office on Thursday.  I’ve decided to get reconstruction.

Radiation has limited my reconstruction options.  That’s the bad news.  One of the few options available to me is to have fat and muscle sucked out of my belly and put into my breast.  In other words, I get liposuction and a boob job.

It’s going to be painful.  It’s going to require a long hospital stay.  It’s the only thing I can do, though, if I want to go this route.  Patients who haven’t gotten radiation can opt for gradual reconstruction, using skin stretchers and implants of steadily increasing size.  Radiation is still affecting my skin and it still may affect it for another year or so.

I found out that our insurance covers reconstruction.  Meanwhile, our dental insurance only barely covers the oral surgery that Katie needs, which, oddly, I learned on the same day.  We’ll pay nothing for a new breast, but we’ll pay a small fortune to have teeth taken out of her cute little face.

At the same time I get the surgery, they will lift the right breast so that it matches my new one.

I’m ashamed, honestly.  I think I’m actually looking forward to this.  I’m hopeful, and it’s all because I get new body parts.  I must be shallow.