There’s nothing quite like the disconnect of listening to Dancing Queen on the office speakers while a nurse pokes a needle into your chest. Yet that’s how the morning began, and so between that, and the nurse asking the guy next to me with the Duck Dynasty/ZZ Top beard “how do you get the ladies to KISS you through that thing?” I was laughing to myself pretty hard by the time yesterday really got started.
Yesterday felt momentous — it was my last (4/4) dose of the two harsher chemo medicines, and now that I’ve made it through the night with no terribleness (also, hello, 5am! thanks, steroids!) beyond aches, I feel… kinda accomplished!
I’ve finished a chapter of treatment, one bit of the long haul that will take me through until May/June, and it feels really good. I’ll have two weeks for my body to heal a little extra before I begin a different type of chemo weekly for 12 weeks.
What We Can Know/ What We Can’t
It’s entirely fucked up knowing that I — we — could do everything “right” and it could still end up that I’m not around in 5 years, 10 years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hoping, I’m trying, I really really want to make that happen, but it also helps me be less afraid to be realistic. I can reassure myself without flat-out lying to myself or trying to push the what-ifs down so far that they feel uglier and uglier.
Because, also, do any of us really know if we’ll be around in one year, in five, in ten? We hope so, we plan for it, we dream about it and we are grateful for it, but nothing’s guaranteed. And every little bit of the way, I am and will continue to be thankful to be present, to be me — from the times I have to hibernate and recover to the times I have energy to make and do stuff to the times I can dance and listen and hug and laugh all night. And I look forward to more of those energetic times again, ahead!
Why Am I Doing This: Chemo?
Aside from a few odd interactions (yes, I love ginger, but I’ve been drinking it on the reg for 10 years already and I’m not gonna substitute that for chemo, thankyouthough), I’ve been lucky that I haven’t gotten too many judge-y questions about why I chose the chemo route. Even (especially!) the other women who I’ve talked to who’ve gone through treatment have realized that each case is so very different (esp. with all Drs. know now), that each course of treatment will be really different.
Still, I feel kinda compelled to explain, sometimes — for educational/informational reasons, rather than defensive ones — just why choosing to go through chemo is an option I’m comfortable with. Especially because these days, it’s not a given in all cancer treatment. The most basic reason is that with everything we know, chemo is the very best tool (beyond surgery) that we have for my treatment. If we just left things after surgery, I’d have a 30% possibility of recurrence within 3-5 years, even though we caught things early.
Since the type of cancer I have doesn’t respond to longer-acting treatments like herceptin or hormonal medications like tamoxifen, chemo is the best bet after surgery. In fact, it cuts that risk in half, down to about 15%. Radiation after that will lower my risk a few extra points. Still, all of these are aggregate risks, so each individual case is different —obviously, I’m hoping my individual chance of recurrence will end up a big fat zero.
I want to be clear — saying that we can’t really pinpoint one specific reason I got sick isn’t the same as saying I’m not doing anything to (as David Servan-Schreiber puts it) “examine the terrain.” But I examine my terrain a lot anyway (hopefully in a reflective rather than self-obsessed way), so though I’m making some changes to diet and lifestyle, etc., 75% of the things suggested in the books and by the Drs to lower risk are things I’ve already been doing for quite a long while, just as personal preference or to try to be healthy in general. And who knows, maybe Uncle Joe and the researchers his efforts will support will even further accelerate research to help tons of people, too!
So, I’ll do all I can to protect and nurture my health while still being human, and life will bring me what it will bring me — much of it very, very, startlingly good, and though there will be days I may be sad or seriously pissed off or frustrated, I also know I have a heightened sense of gratitude to be able to live it and share it, the good and the bad and the things that are both/all tangled up together.
Up soon… “Why I’m Doing This: Writing About All This Crap Edition”
’til then — among the many amazing thoughtful gifts and notes and creations I’ve received, this song my good friend Dustin made is one of my very favorites — and good for listening to at 5am…