Category: radiation

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.

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…

Just don’t unpack and live there.

You guys, the other day I was taking care of business (business = my kids) with daytime tv on in the background, and a commercial came on that caught my ear.  You know the kind.  If you’re currently experiencing restless legs, blurred vision, the appetite of a high school football player, vampire fangs, and an uncontrollable urge to twerk — IDK — ask your doctor for THIS medicine so we can make a buttload of money.  Except I was like YESSS!  to all symptoms.  I looked up to see who was reading my mind, and it was a very nice looking grey haired woman speaking.  For a menopause medication.  Yeah, so that’s where my life is right now.

I must also note, the idea of a hot flash is kind of hilarious, but hot flashes are NO joke.  I have always been the cold type, but I am freezing my family out right now.  I should probably put hats and mittens on Alice while I lounge around bald and in my underwear.  Summertime is not the ideal time to go through this.  Wigs, sharing a bed with anyone, and babies with fevers who want to lay on me all Labor Day long are not my favorite things right now.

In keeping it real news, after I told you guys about needing radiation a couple of weeks ago, I let myself go to a bad place.  I stayed there for about a week, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the word “aggressive.”  It was a terrible place to be, and I couldn’t stop my mind from going down a lot of roads that left me partially paralyzed and on the brink of depression.  I felt really guilty and knew that I needed to pull myself out of it.  Then I talked to my dad who put some things into perspective for me.  He simply said, “Heather, it’s okay to feel that way, even healthy.  You can visit.  Just don’t unpack and live there.”  As much as I don’t like that place, I can visit; It’s probably necessary.  I just won’t unpack and live there.  Thanks, dad.

I figured a week is as long a vacation as anyone takes, and this was one of the worst places I had ever visited so I got back to my life.  It has been refreshing and fun.  So that’s what I’m going to focus on this time.  My life.

Like, I have had dinner with friends twice and Josh once (ALONE!  Holla! <— Wait, people don’t say that anymore, do they?  My cool speak has a different definition now and includes phrases like “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  Maybe someone can debrief me on some hip phrases.  You know, like Darryl did for Michael on The Office??)

Penny started preschool, but is definitely too cool for me.


The girls and I have been able to make it the last two story times at the library, and Uncle Paul even accompanied us to one.  I’m pretty sure he was traumatized.  Kids were everywhere — throwing fits, refusing to sit on “the rug,” crying, trying to escape, hitting each other.  Per ushe.  And there were two types of moms.  The dejected mom and the mom who is so excited to see other adults that she talks the whole time.  I am definitely among them. I get it.  (Upon relaying my brother’s surprise that we talked during story time to another mom, she was all, “We’ll talk through a eulogy.  And a presidential address.”  We get hard up for adult convo, yo.)

After the library, Uncle Paul did help plan and photograph an important moment in Penny’s life.  Her wedding to “Old Teddy.”  This day has been a long time coming.

TeddyWeddingCollageWe also celebrated Alice’s 1st and Penny’s 4th birthdays last weekend with a princess party!  Sidebar: If you have styrofoam swords and wands as party favors, maybe give them out at the end of the party if you don’t want an absolute brawl to break out.  The kids LOVED them (I’m pretty sure it made the party.), but I was sure that my mother-in-law was going to kill me since the party was at her house.  She did not.  Nary a word.  Sometimes this cancer thing works to my advantage.

Also, I almost had a pinterest fail to show you guys.  Midway through this castle cake, it looked like a lost cause.  For serious.  I literally said, “Well, we can serve this alongside a picture of what it was supposed to look like so people can get a good laugh.”  But Josh took over and saved. the. day.  It’s not perfect, but we all loved it.  I did not think the end result was possible.  Josh has mad piping skills.  I have mad put some princesses on the cake to hide some stuff skills.

PicMonkey Collage

After the party, I went to a benefit for an old friend of mine’s son, Sam.  A few weeks before me, he was diagnosed with cancer AT FIVE YEARS OLD.  I just don’t even know how that happens, and it seems so unfair.  But this little dude is now done with his treatment, and I had the sweetest little conversation with him that, really, I can’t stop thinking about.

His mom brought him over because he noticed my pink hair.  She said they had a conversation about it, and he wanted to ask me a question.

In the sweetest little voice that melted my mom heart, “Do you have cancer too?”

“I do.  Yes.”

“Do you have a port too?”

“Yeah.  Like you.”  And I pulled my shirt back to show him.

He smiled and showed me his port too.  All the cool kids have ports, you know.  (What’s up, Garrett!)

That was it.  But, man.

This world is wonderful and scary and sad and confusing and full of joy.  And what I’ve learned the most from this experience is that life is meant for connecting with other people.  So that’s what I’m working on right now.  Not unpacking my bags in some weird, worried place in my mind and just getting out there and living and connecting with people.  Also, keeping cool.  And babying my eyelashes.

Permasmiles and crowd surfing.

I sipped on that sweet chemotherapy cocktail all afternoon yesterday, and now I’m just waiting for that weekend hangover.  Last cycle was my worst, possibly because I fasted as some preliminary research shows it to be helpful in reducing side effects and identifying cancer cells.  Whether it was a result of fasting or not, I felt sick sooner and for longer.  Honestly, I don’t think I came out of the fast properly, but this time I ate my little heart out, as I’m accustomed to doing.  Fasting and I are just not friends.  I’m definitely a Ron Weasley when I don’t eat.  And this cancer is pretty much a horcrux.  Does anyone have a basilisk’s fang hanging around?  Or, like, a super fancy sword made by goblins?

Chemo days are actually some of my favorites.  I kick my feet up, watch this tv, and flirt with the old men while someone else takes care of my kids.
Chemo days are actually some of my favorites. I kick my feet up, watch this tv, and flirt with the old men while someone else takes care of my kids.

So anyway, I kind of got the wind taken out of my sails yesterday as my doctor gave me some unexpected news.  First, let me just say that my oncologist is a very smart, accomplished, and sweet woman.  She just smiles so dang much!  The first time I met with her, it was rather offensive to me.  She rocked her permasmile as she talked me through my treatment plan and odds.  My odds.  Yeah, she smiled through that scary little nugget.  She even gave pointed little giggles before responding to my questions.  I left her office after that first meeting not really sure if my doctor understood the severity of my situation.  I am ALL for a laugh, but this stuff: not funny…unless I make it funny.  Then, it’s funny.

For my third treatment three weeks ago, one of my bffs, Christen, accompanied me.  I warned her of this smiling phenomenon, stripped down to put on a gown, and waited for the doc.  As we waited, we did what all best friends do.  She felt me up, of course. You know, then we had a pillow fight in our jammies.  jk. jk.  Kind of.  I don’t think it counts if the boob isn’t attached to me, right?  See, what had happened was…I took my boobs off and handed her one.  We’re pretty much like sisters, and I showed her my scars too.  She’s the first person besides Josh and my daughters (oh, and a million medical professionals) that I have shown so it felt kind of like another step toward acceptance.

Christen, preparing to be my maid of honor, even in kindergarten.  She never could handle her "juicebox."
Christen, preparing to be my maid of honor, even in kindergarten. She never could handle her “juicebox.”

Aaaaand I’m off track.  The point is that today, when Dr. M walked into the exam room, she wasn’t smiling quite as brightly.  Instead, she informed me that she took my case to the tumor board for the third time at my insistence (I just know that doctors love nurses as patients!), and they decided that I did, indeed, need radiation.  I was not expecting that.  She explained that they reviewed the original biopsy results and basically concluded that, although my two tumors were small, I had an aggressive form of cancer.  My odds of recurrence are higher, and I’m young.  Youth is not an advantage in the case of breast cancer.  Hormones and such.  Dr. M literally told me that they were just going to throw everything they had at me.  Fun.

Except, not really.  Not even remotely what I wanted to hear.  I guess that, now, I am not halfway there.  I don’t know.  We don’t have a radiation plan yet.

I realize that this really doesn’t change anything…just what I know.  I realize that getting radiation is a good thing.  I realize that my God is a big God, and I realize that fear will only stop me in my tracks and rob me of the now.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t head straight to the bathroom and break down.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t walk into the chemo waiting area looking a hot mess.  Think Britney Spears, circa 2007.  Then, the kindness of the other cancer patients was more than I could take.

I sat down next to Josh and tried to hold myself together, but hot tears escaped one by one of their own volition.  People looked over sympathetically.  People gave me my space.

Then the middle aged woman sitting across from me wheeled away.  No big deal.  I was trying haaard to shut myself down, stuff it back inside, so her movements barely registered with me.  Until she came back bearing tissues for me.

She looked me in the eye, “Here.”

That was too much for me.

I started sobbing into the tissues she just handed me.  More people looked.  I buried my head into Josh’s arm.

“Everyone’s looking at me.”

“That’s okay.”

One final sob.  Then, lock down.

When I was called back into the infusion center a couple of minutes later, all I could do was look at the woman in the pink hat and mutter, “Thanks.”

I know she knew what it meant.

Thanks for acknowledging me.  Thanks for supporting me.  Thanks for knowing that sometimes we just can’t hold it in.  Thanks for understanding this pain.  This fear.  This loss of control.  Thanks for seeing me.  Thanks for being my friend.  And I will call that woman, who I will probably never see again and who I only exchanged two words with, a friend always.

This whole thing is bananas, really.

I mean, in other news, my eyes have become the place where eyelashes go to die.  I can’t yet tell that any are missing, but I can sure feel them practicing their cannon balls one by annoying little one into the pool of my eye.  On the bright side, my brother-in-law pointed out that I have a lot of wishes coming my way.  Score.

Also, I had to have a conversation with Penny last week about why my hair will grow back but not my breasts.  The answer is easy enough if you have a brief moment to prepare, but my initial response to her question contained a lot of “uhs” and “umms.”  I found my way through though.  And I will find my way through this too.  With the help of friends and family.  You guys are rocking it.  And I just can’t keep up with all of the thank yous right now.  I feel like, one by one, you are all carrying me.  Sort of like crowd surfing.  Each meal, each letter, each dollar donated, each ridiculous beard shaved in the name of more donations or promises to run the marathon portion of a legit Ironman race in a prom dress.  A mowed lawn.  Childcare.  A care package in the mail.  A shoulder for me to cry on.  A tissue passed my way.  They are all hands, and you just keep holding me up…until I make it to my brother, Paul.  Then I fall.  True story.

I was once crowd surfing and was dropped hard.  I look up from the floor, and it was my very own brother that dropped the ball…err, me.  Maybe he was tired of seeing so many dudes trying to cop a feel.  Or maybe he’s just short.  But then he hoisted me back up because, you know, I had already lost a shoe.

Yeah, this is totally like crowd surfing.  My loved ones are holding me up, that shoe probably represents my mind, and I’ve been groped more times than I count.