Month: October 2014

Processing.

I titled this post and left it blank over a week ago.  I owe you guys an update – plus, I like to write — but I just don’t know what to say.  I feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out.

During treatment, I had all kinds of little moments to myself.  They may have been when I was lying in bed hugging a pillow or when I was doing the business that chemo makes you do in the lady john, but I was alone much more often than before.  It was usually at the expense of my husband’s sanity or my mother-in-law’s free time, and I often didn’t feel very good.  But in these moments, I thought.  And I thought.  And thought some more.  A brush with death will do that to a person, and facing my mortality has been difficult and wonderful.

Now that the bulk of my treatment is complete, I am back to professional momming, i.e. slinging milk and goldfish, wiping butts and faces (not in that order), doing preschool drop-off and making play dates.  I don’t know if I was just so excited to get back to my life or if I just opened my eyes and saw what a mess my kids and house were…or even if my kids sensed that mom was back, but I jumped right back in.  And now I am exhausted, and my head if so FULL of kids and cleaning and stupid worries.  I got mad at Josh for putting a dish in the sink.  (Seriously, though, the kitchen was clean; the sink was empty.  How much harder is it to put the bowl in the dishwasher rather than the sink?  But no, you put it in the sink so I can put it in the dishwasher.  Gah.)  So yeah, things are back to normal.

It’s just that six months ago, or two months ago, that bowl wouldn’t have been a blip on my radar.  Because who cares about a bowl?  I kind of miss the days (of, like a month ago) when I had time to think.

I’m trying to find the balance between getting on with my life and changing the things that I want to change.  It’s really hard to do when I have these amazing little people who need, want, DEMAND so much of me and my time.  I suspect that even without kids, it’s a hard balance to strike.

Truthfully, I don’t know where I stand sometimes.  I really am still processing what just happened.  I only found that lump in my breast less than seven months ago, and here I am bald, boobless, anemic, and aware of so very much more.  And even though I suppose I don’t have cancer anymore and I’m trying to “move on,” it’s always in my face.

At the grocery store:  “Ma’am, do you want help out?”

Who?  Me?  Oh, right.  I’m bald and frail. 

And I start to feel a little offended.

No one ever offered to help me out before!  Not even when I was juggling a crying infant and a petulant preschooler.  Do I really look that bad?

“No, thanks,” I say and walk out.

Crap!  That might be the last time they ask me that for, like, 30 or 40 years.  I should have told him yes!  I should take advantage of this.  He doesn’t know that I don’t have cancer anymore.  Next time, for sure.

I don’t know.  I’m pretty unsure of where to land except for exactly where I was before (because it’s habit and easy), and I don’t want that.  It’s not that it was a bad place.  I just know better now.  I just don’t know where to step.

A Rad New Plan.

Good news, you guys, I am officially done with chemo, and about half of my eyebrows and most of my eyelashes made it! My brain, however, was not so lucky. Chemobrain is real, and it just feels foggy up in here. Like the set of an 80s video — without all the hair and boobs because duh. I have been affectionately referring to myself as a chemotard (Oh, please don’t try to go all PC on me. I am just poking fun at myself, y’all.), and I am having a hard time focusing, remembering things, and sometimes, retrieving words. I was already terrible at trivia, but if you invite me to your trivia night now, I will blame it ALL on the chemo. I will make up for my lack of brainpower with extra delicious snacks though because I’m not afraid to be that girl. And my love for baked goods and cheese-based dips remains unaffected.

In other good news, I finally saw a radiation oncologist last week, and he nixed the radiation plans! I was a little like, “Dude…I mean, good doctor, are you sure? Like for sure, for sure?” He then drew pictures for me, threw a lot of statistics at me, and repeated certain things over and over so I could let them sink in. The short story is that, in my case, radiation would only lower the odds of a local recurrence by maybe a couple percent, and, in his opinion, the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.

Since my oncologist was all, “We’re going to throw everything we have at you,” I really didn’t think it was an option for this new doctor to come back and say, “Nah, you’re good,” but his nurse practitioner put it like this. “If you want a good cake recipe, you can go to your hairdresser and ask for one. You might get a good recipe or you might not. But if you go to a baker, you know you’re going to get a good one.” Obviously, the hairdresser is my oncologist, and the baker is the radiation oncologist.

So anyway, they told me I was free to go and to get dressed and left the room. Josh and I sat there in complete shock, and, yeah, I started crying. What they had just told me was that I was done. I was DONE. DONE. DONE. DONE.

I’m not gonna lie. This last six months has been a little slice of hell. It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. (And, trust me, I do realize how much worse it could be or could have been.) I have learned and lost a lot, but I really think that’s all for a different post. My point is that cancer and its treatments are pretty all consuming, and to be abruptly told that you are done is dizzying. That’s part of the reason I’ve kept this news closer to home for over a week. I feel like I’ve spent an entire night at the carnival riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, and I’ve just stepped off. I can’t see straight. I can’t walk straight. I’m nauseated. I’m tired. And I don’t know which way is home.

I don’t even know how to get back to living my life. Things like going back to work feel so absurd. I’m just so dizzy. And the truth is that I’m not really entirely done with treatment. Every three weeks until June, I still have to get Herceptin (a non-chemo drug) infusions and blood draws. I will be getting an echocardiogram every three months with that, and at my next appointment, my doctor and I will discuss which drug I will take for the next five or ten years to block to effects of estrogen on my body and possible ovary removal.

But that night, after I found out that I wouldn’t have to go through radiation, I woke up at 3 AM and couldn’t back to sleep. I laid there next to Penny (How do you keep your kids out of your bed? Ugh.) and did something that I’ve been doing a lot of lately — thought about my life and how I want to use it. After about an hour of that, I decided to check facebook, and just when I thought I was done with cancer, the harshness of it slapped me in the face. Do you remember Sam? The little boy I bonded with (maybe it was one-sided. Ha.) over ports and cancer. Well, Sam, the six-year-old son of former coworkers who just completed his treatments for liver cancer, was back in the hospital already. His cancer had returned. And my heart broke.

Look how super, dang cute this guy is.
Look how super, dang cute this guy is.

Although cancer hasn’t given me all the answers, it has given me the right questions, and when I ask myself how I want to spend my time, helping people is in the top five (along with loving on my family, laughing with friends, stalking Taylor Hanson, and eating cheese while playing board games). Just kidding. Kind of. But helping people, yes.

I never knew how much help I could need. It took a village, or, like, a clown car full of awesome people to get me through this. It really did. And I also never knew just how financially devastating one diagnosis and six months could be. But it was. We, truly, wouldn’t have been able to pay our bills if it wasn’t for the kindness of you guys. Sam and his family have just gone through what I went through — chemo and surgery — and have already turned back around to do it again.  In the spirit of helping people, because when you realize what’s important in life, it’s really only people, I’m just going to throw this out there.  It’s a link to Sam’s donation page if you feel so inclined.  And I hope you do.  Sam was diagnosed just weeks before me, and I remember donating the first time thinking, “We don’t really have the money, but if this were ever my family, I would need the support too.”  True story.  And then it was.  Yikes.

http://www.gofundme.com/7vildk

Also, I’m pretty mad at Hanson right now.  I told them I’d either take the trip or a wig made out of their hair.  I don’t know why they never got back with me…

For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Just before my first chemo treatment, I spotted “the bell” on a wall in the waiting area.  No one rang it that day, but it gave me hope.  That stupid little bell gave me a goal.  It gave me focus.  It even gave me an outlet.

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After that first meeting and making it through my first chemo, I started to form a strange relationship with the bell.  I would sometimes stare at it across the crowded waiting room like we were in the school cafeteria and I had been practicing writing “Mrs. Heather Bell” in my Lisa Frank notepad.  I would picture myself ringing it.  (How many times would I ring it?  How hard?  Would I cry?  Who would be there?  Should I look directly at it?  Away?  Should I buy it dinner first?)  I would watch other people ring it and, almost every time, be moved to tears.  Eventually, I started to trash talk the bell.  And, like, straight up threaten it.  I’m pretty sure I told it that I was responsible for cracking the Liberty Bell and it better watch out.  I told it that I was lifting weights (pshh, yeah right).  I may have even thrown a few yo mama jokes its way.  I definitely did that “intimidating” move where you jerk your head forward with crazy eyes.  IDK.  I’m not very good at intimidation…or trash talk.

Well, last Monday, I FINALLY got to ring that damn bell after my sixth and final chemo!  I have to say that I started the day pretty down.  Josh and I made our way to the hospital, and I knew that I should be excited…but I was in a funk.  I mean, part of it could be that, whether it was my first or last, I was still on my way to chemo and a couple more weeks of feeling not so hot, but I also think it’s pretty scary to come to the end of this.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t in a good mood.  And I *almost* made it through the day without crying.

I actually felt a little sorry for the resident.  We had been discussing things just fine, and he mentioned that my daughters would need to start “vigilant screenings at 25, including breast MRIs,” and I just started crying without warning.  He immediately looked like a confused fifteen year old boy, handed me an empty box of tissues, and did a lot of stammering.  He obviously doesn’t have children, and I obviously overreacted.  I apologized profusely, and he did not mention my daughters again.

But, 25?  At 25, I was standing in the same church that both of our parents had been married in and saying “I do” to my husband.  At 25, I was figuring out that I wanted to go to nursing school.  I was living off of diet coke, cereal, and love.  I was poor and so very carefree.  At 25, Josh and I read books to each other every night and went on walks whenever the mood struck.  We drove around, endlessly, looking at houses for fun and listening to music with the windows down.  At 25, I was not worrying about breast cancer.  (Should I have been??)  At 25, I was not facing my mortality, and I was not inside of an MRI machine fretting.  I’m not saying that maybe I shouldn’t have been.  I’m just saying that it’s not the 25 I wanted for my daughters, and it just makes me sad.

Afterwards, chemo went as well as chemo goes.  I watched some HGTV, sent random texts, wondered why everyone at chemo had hair, and did not inform my nurse that she was supposed to ice my nails when she forgot.

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My brother, Paul, and his wife showed up at around 8 o’clock to watch me finish and ring the bell.   By that time, I was in a better mood and wondering why there were no late night chemo party rooms.  I am always there late, and overall, I am very disappointed at the chemo round table.  The movies taught me that I would make my new best friend at chemo.  We would laugh and cry with each other when our hair fell out.  We would trade foobs (fake boobs) and fingernail polish.  We would go to puke into the same trash can, bump heads, look up, and laugh while finger pointing instead.  Obviously, one of us would die, and it wouldn’t be me.  But that’s just how it goes.  jk. jk.  For real.  And also, does it make you uncomfortable when I say “die?”  I’ve noticed that.  I can’t just say, “These shoes are KILLING me!” or “I’m DYING to go to the pumpkin patch next week” anymore.  But I still do.  Because you guys get a little uncomfortable.  And it makes me laugh a little on the inside.

Seriously, though, there are six to a chemo room, and they should group them by some demographic.  Like the old guys who just want to sleep but bring along their super talkative old lady wives.  Group ’em up.  Single and ready to mingle.  Put ’em together.  A knitting club, movie buffs, people who are always coId, retired truck drivers, cat people, people who love Hanson, Harry Potter, cheese, and laughing at cancer.  Oh, or BINGO room!  I would totally hang out in the bingo chemo room and set out my troll dolls and pictures of my kids and cats.  I really think these are solid ideas, you guys.

But anyway, I did manage to make it out to the bell and finally get a piece of that action.  I’m not sure what I expected, but more than anything, I was just excited.  Since it was so late, there wasn’t a crowd in the waiting room to clap for me.  It was just Josh, Paul, Rachael, and me, but I think it was better that way.  I got to ring it as much as I wanted.  There may have even been some attempts to judo kick it.

PicMonkey Collage

A week later, I have to say, there should be another bell for when you’re REALLY done with chemo.  Cuz it sho don’t feel like I’m done yet.  Soon enough, I know.

I’ve also got some other things on my mind that I need to fill you guys in on, and I’m sorting through a lot of emotions and, really, this whole year.  I will update very soon, but for now, I’ll just leave you with this video.  It dually represents how awkward I feel while being filmed and how happy I was to ring that thing.