Over the Thanksgiving holiday I noticed my eye lashes and eyebrows, as I was getting dressed to go out. The lashes had thinned during chemo, but suddenly I could see chunks missing. I felt ridiculous trying to put mascara on individual lashes!
I've tried to stay away from the internet, but on Sunday when things were quiet, I googled up a storm and made myself miserable. Evidently lots of chemo patients lose lashes and brows way after chemo ends. Many complain that it all finally grows back, only to fall out all over again. What? I hadn't prepared myself for this. I thought it was all about growth now... growing hair and growing stronger.
This lack of hair stuff stinks. I know I'm supposed to be grateful for how little I've suffered throughout all this and I am. But this is one of my bad days and I'm just going to pout and shout... and then I'm going to decorate.
My timing is pretty good. In 2 weeks I will have my last radiation, then a couple days of doc appointments and then a free week before Christmas! Daily raditaion has taken up time, but at least I haven't felt exhausted...yet. I'm ready to begin enjoying Christmas.
Sad For Some
Last year, Don and I enjoyed the holidays as we always do. We had no clue what was ahead in 2016. I'm glad we didn't. I figure we'll play ukes again this year. And we'll be feeling extra grateful to celebrate Christmas, with so much behind us. But a serious part of me will always know... things are different now. I have been changed. And a big part of me will be thinking about all those people, I don't know... who are just beginning their battle.
I'll remember Thanksgiving this year and how I got a break from raditaion for the holiday! Mostly, I'll remember how truly thankful I felt, with family and the end of treatment nearing. I'll also remember the holiday, as the easiest Thanksgiving ever. The kids came home... and it really did feel like we were in some kind of stress-free zone!
Scott brought Lola and she even seemed to be aware of the stress free zone. She had her own goodie to nibble on, while we feasted at the table.
A crisp day would have been festive, but we made use of the ideal temps. There was time for frisbee and dog walks. The air felt heavenly.
Cozy Cabin Dining
On Friday night we had a special dinner outing at Rainbow Lodge. We arrived early to see the grounds lit up in festive lights and we lingered over meals of trout and wild game.
Posing with Kids
Don took a photo of me with Heidi and Scott before we left the restaurant. As we drove home I realized I'd missed our chance to get a Christmas card photo of the 4 of us. But then I thought, "Am I even doing Christmas cards?" I like this new relaxed approach to holidays. I'm going to have to give the card idea some thought!
There's nothing pretty or impressive about my running style these days. During chemo I grew to accept my stop & go, sluggish pace... the rare times I tried to run.
Running in the Dark
The bandana/ball cap combo seems to be the only thing that will no slip off my head.
Running in Broad Daylight
The other day I talked myself into walk/running with Don in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day, with more people wandering the neighborhood. I added sunglasses to my running costume and hoped to avoid social stops along the way.
We almost finished the "loop" when I spotted some neighbors I haven't seen in months. I dreaded the slowdown, but our short encounter ended up giving me a boost. I was surprised by the warmth of our kind neighbors, who had heard of my cancer through the grapevine. I had expected an awkward meeting and instead was given some kind words, a little hand holding and a promise of prayers. Hindu prayers actually. My first.
I'm ready to turn my attention to turkey festivities! The schools have been out all week and we keep having mini cold fronts. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I'm ready to enjoy! But I had to be reminded of that stupid cancer thing and be at radiation at 10:10 this morning.
BUT... that whining intro is fake. I didn't mind going to radiation. I had too much to feel happy about. We're spending Thanksgiving with both kids this year and I'm feeling well. I just reached my halfway point with my treatments and only 3 weeks to go! Plus the appointment was quick and the staff was in great spirits, talking about favorite Thanksgiving foods and asking me about plans.
New Orleans. How could I be anything but totally thankful about this holiday and this day? Plus, I have 4 days off from my "radiation job". Let the feasting begin!
I've been trying to use these 6+ weeks of radiation to connect with people... a bit. I only have 5 to 15 minutes of waiting, by the time I come out of the dressing room. It seems like forever, when I'm sitting awkwardly with others in hospital gowns, not speaking. So I'm trying to avoid the comfort zone of staring at my technology... and I'm speaking.
He said I'd do fine, because he could see a sparkle in my eyes. "Gotta be positive!" Then he quietly reminded me not to be like those other people, who drag in like they're already dead.
A Young Face
After seeing many feeble patients, I was surprised to see a new face, one day. She was young, with refreshing energy, wearing a colorful head scarf. I felt like a school girl, wanting to be friends. We were called back to the dressing rooms about the same time and ended up with a good amount of time to talk. I realized for the first time since diagnosis, I was talking to someone who had breast cancer along with me. We shot questions back and forth about hair growth and embarrassing wig problems. I showed her pictures of me getting my head shaved by the barber. She showed me pictures of her dressed as Mr. Clean for Halloween! I loved that. She was a mother, with 2 small kids and a job outside the home. She made it all look easy, but I could only imagine how tough it would be to juggle so much, plus cancer.
I haven't forced anyone to talk, but I've opened up to every single person seated next to me. The man in sandals was the least friendly. His clothes reeked of cigarette smoke and he coughed a lot. I greeted and commented on the weather, but he just answered. "Hmm." I left him alone.
Another day, a woman with a black cane sat down, looking like she preferred to be left alone. She barely acknowledged my greeting, but after a while she said softly. "I didn't think I would ever be here." I answered "Me too." She said there'd been no cancer in her family. I said, "Me too." She said she'd been praying a lot. I smiled and added, "I'll bet you've had a lot of people praying for you." "Oh yes!" We laughed about how you might as well take as many prayers as you can get.
I told the older woman how I'd met the young mother and how impressed I was with her. "She has so young, with children and a job!" I made some comment about how hard it must be to face cancer so young. "No." The woman answered firmly. Her sigh almost seemed to drain her energy. I had a feeling she was remembering what it felt like to be young. "It would be so much easier to be young with cancer." I saw the cane resting in her hands and I understood.
So, I'm halfway through my radiation treatment and I'm ready to be done. But I'll see what else I can learn from others, along the way.
But there's no such thing, right?
On my first day, the machine was decorated for Halloween and my question was about sneezing. I was glad to learn, it was okay to sneeze... if I didn't move. Or I could holler, "Stop!" Since they are watching and listening through the glass.
The Blue Pillow
Can I Nail the Pose?
Each time I lay down on the sheet covered platform, I reach back and hold the bars above my head. To get me into the exact position each day, the therapists tell me to scoot up or down. Then they tug the sheet, beneath me, to center me more right or left. My question one day was, "Does anyone ever just lie down and hit the right position perfectly?" They laughed and said it was possible. I told them it was my goal to nail it on the first try, before my treatments ended. I decided my chances were slim, when I heard it happens only about once, every 6 months.
I'm only in that room for a few minutes and nothing hurts, so I feel comfortable pondering some questions.
"Does anyone ever fall asleep in here?"
"Do people keep their eyes open or closed?"
"Is there anyone who has a treatment shorter than me?"
Yes, people fall asleep, often and most people don't open their eyes, like I do. And there might be one person with a slightly shorter treatment than mine. And that thought lead to a question, with a sobering answer.
"What is the longest treatment time?"
"Well... about 30 minutes." My therapist answered that day. I gulped at the thought of laying still so long... daily. It can take that long for some brain cancer patients, she explained. She told me some had to wear plastic mesh masks over the head and shoulders, to keep from moving. I knew I had seen stacks of those molded "face-cages" with names on them. My therapist was honest about how claustrophobic she felt when she tried one on, in school. I suddenly remembered the woman I had seen leaving... with imprints on her face.
I usually leave the center in good spirits, but that day I left thoughtful and sad. Sad for those who suffer long treatments. And more sad to think of those who deal with cancers and treatments, with lower success rates.
My Fellow Patients
It's easy to joke about my radiation, because it is painless for me. But I really need to stop and think about my fellow patients who share the waiting area. We sit in our matching gowns... with such different stories and futures. As we move into the holidays, I aim to be more sensitive to those around me.
Unattractive AND Stinky?
It's hard to feel very attractive these days. I have to strut in for radiation in a hospital gown and flip off my wig or scarf. Then I have to reach both arms over my head, while the therapists adjust my position. It's hard to feel confident about how I look and how I might even smell! But it's not summer, so that's good. And my therapists chatter with me, so I think they're properly distracted. Plus I use a double dose for my left armpit... as if that might transfer somehow.
I've found a few shirts in my closet that cover my marks. Again, I'm glad it's not summer, when Texas days make you want to live in swim suits and tank tops.
Feet and Food
The other day I figured I had earned the indulgent treat of being treated like a princess in one of those throne chairs. The massage was heavenly, even if my toes didn't really feel it.
But once we're back in the wait area beside the radiation room, we suddenly have more in common. We all have some kind of cancer and we're all stylin' in our gowns!
Since Day One
The man seated next to me was called in. I watched him head towards the door casually reaching back to hold his untied gown closed. I cringed and looked away, since he didn't get to keep his jeans on. While he was treated, I sat quietly wondering about the others, guessing what they were being treated for, by what they wore under their gowns. Awful, I know. But my brain was swirling. I was sad to see one woman head in for radiation, wearing her clothes. Did that mean her treatment was for brain cancer?
No More Silence
Since that first day, I've not allowed myself the luxury of escaping with my technology. I greet and make a comment or ask one question. If the person near me needs to be left alone, I take the hint. But almost always, we talk and I know I always feel better.
On May 27, my post was about not liking results. That day was different than November 8, but my reaction was similar. Last May, I was numb with the news of my breast cancer diagnosis. My test results had no specifics, so the unknowns were overwhelming. For days, I kept thinking I'd snap out of my fog and laugh, "Whew! That was a scary dream!"
Keeping Strong and Positive
I learned from another friend to be open about my cancer. First I told family and friends and then I opened up on Facebook and occasionally to strangers. Even though I've kept a blog for years, I'm incredibly guarded about the personal stuff. I learned early, it was a relief not carrying the secret. And later, I found a lot of unexpected support.
I voted early and I felt positive. I'm a democrat in Texas and that can make you feel a little isolated. But I live in Fort Bend County, one of the most diverse in the country. I stood in line with a crowd, representing many races and cultures. I felt good that day.
Two days after the election, Don and I dined with our nephew at a privately owned restaurant. When the arrogant owner teased about our "virgin waiter", I cringed. Our young Asian waiter, looked nervous on his first night on the job, but he smiled and laughed along. The owner hovered nearby and made cracks about our waiter paying for our meal, if we didn't like it. Then the owner smiled at his own cleverness, reminding us how the new president could have our waiter deported. The awkward scene was over before it sunk in. I dined, thinking about the young man, with the heavy accent and how he had reacted to the remarks... with a deep breath and an uneasy smile.
After our dinner, we were able to catch the waiter and owner near the door. The owner shook our hands and was pleased we'd enjoyed our food. I put my hand on the young waiter's back and told the owner what an amazing waiter he was. "But please don't tease about deportation. That's scary." I looked into the young man's eyes and tried to offer a supportive smile.
My stylist was running 30 minutes late. When I finally sat down, her mood made me feel like I was the one who had caused the delay. She asked quickly, "What are we doing here?" She rushed a comb through my synthetic hair, with a strained expression. I reminded her that I was just needing the wig trimmed and thinned. Suddenly my hand shot up to hold down the wig, that was trying to slide off my head. "Do you want me to hold it?" I laughed awkwardly. But she said it didn't matter.
This sulking, messed hair picture of me years ago, reminds me of how I felt sitting in that salon chair. My feelings were hurt and I chose pouting over speaking up.
My New Look
I tossed the wig on Betty Lou, the wig stand and told her, "You can have it." The way it landed on the Styrofoam head reminded me of past hair dos.
Return to Youth
This wig hair ain't growing back! That's worse than a regular bad hair cut. But my hair is growing and maybe I'll have a Pixie cut, with choppy little bangs again. If that doesn't work out, I'll just keep wearing scarves... with a little boot distraction!
I had my follow up with my oncologist 4 weeks after my last chemo. There wasn't much to it. He congratulated me and answered a few questions about what's ahead. I had to add a little something to the appointment to give closure.
Even though I know Dr. P will continue to be my doctor in future years, it will be a while... and he has lots of patients. I knew this crazy donkey moment would help him remember me... even if it causes him to remember a crazy woman, with the donkey.
Before I brought out the donkey we talked about the Letrozole meds I'll take for 5 years, to lower risk of cancer recurrence. "Why not Tamoxifen?" I asked. I was confused by his tactful answer. "Oh!" I suddenly realized. "It's because I'm old and Tamoxifen is for younger patients!" I was stating what I finally understood. "Oh, I never said you're old..." My poor doctor was nearly stammering, worried that I was insulted. He went on and on about my good health and looking young for my age. I had to assure him I hadn't been bothered, just confused. "I am old! I'm going to be 60!" I laughed. Our funny conversation lead us right into the donkey intro... which may have made me appear old enough that senility had set in.
Dr. P wanted to know the donkey's name. "Just Ms. Donkey." I laughed, telling him about how this mascot came about... with friends and family telling me to kick cancer's bootie. He reminded me how important family support is... and humor. He also said he was so glad I was done with chemo before the holidays. "When you go through chemo during the holiday, then every holiday you're reminded of that tough time..." I hadn't even thought about that. Thanks for the reminder, Dr. P!
Colors of October
October has always been the perfect month. I still think of it as an orange month, with golds and reds thrown in. But in recent years I've learned to appreciate the other color associated with the October. And this year, I really began to understand the impact of that PINK and Breast Cancer Awareness.
I've become fond of the bubble gum color that has helped spotlight the very thing that people used to whisper about. The focus has made it easier for people like me to share. And the focus has helped me get better care, with so many new developments in recent years.
The Cancer Club
A Good Month to End Chemo
Last Day of Pink Month
I ended the pink month, wearing orange and holding onto my very own brown & gold guardian angel. Steve carved this special gift from cedar and coated it with shellac and linseed oil. The delivery on October 31, seemed to bring perfect closure to a special month. Of course, I may be in danger of wearing away the metallic gold flakes... I've spent 2 days studying this little treasure with my hands.
Kicks and Prayers!
Halloween is over and I might never have such good costume opportunities, again. There were so many bald men I could have pulled off.
Bette Davis and Kristin Wiig have played some nice high-forehead-characters, that I could have had some fun with. But I wasn't invited to any costume parties this year. And besides I had a lot to do on Halloween.
Vote and Buy Candy
i got slightly in the spirit, looking like a Pumpkin Head, when I early voted at the grocery store.
Then I thanked my 2 technicians who were dressed in matching tutus and I headed off to the dressing room. Oops! I forgot my scarf! "Hi!" I waved with an embarrassed grin to the man seated next in line, wearing his gown. I reached up with my hand, to see if I had indeed walked into the waiting area with my bald head. All I could do was laugh. We'll all in gowns, after all!
Cancer to Covid
I started this complaining list/blog, in May 2016. I posted 200 gripes about my breast cancer and then I was done.
On March 17, 2020, I started venting all over again, when another disease (starting with a C) interfered with my life. Only this time, it was affecting more than me.
Coronavirus and Cancer! Both are evil, but neither can totally get me down... if I vent! I hope with Covid, I run out of complaints before 200!