One week ago, I met a friend at yoga and then had tea with her afterwards. She is going through chemo for stage 3 breast cancer which started with her discovery of a lump last fall. That led to surgery, then one round of chemo, now a second round of chemo and then she will have radiation. It has been a tough road for her as well, and I feel so badly she has to go through this. She also has one daughter at home and one in college. It must be so hard to spend her younger daughter’s senior year sick with chemo.
The two of us, her bald, me with little hair, practiced next to each other at yoga. It has been a long time since she was at yoga and it was so nice to have her by my side. She has a sweet spirit that comes through when you practice next to her. She is strong, but lost a lot of weight. I am lucky in that I have gained back what I lost and look my normal weight, which is thin but not too thin. As we were practicing, I thought about the strength we both get from the mat. She also told me it is where she finds the most peace. We both said we are thankful for our yoga practice, which has grounded us, has helped me find inner peace, and has kept us strong.
Afterwards, as we drank our coffee and tea, we talked about the fact that chemo is so horrible and that unless you have gone through it, you simply do not know how horrible it can be. Through my last chemo, as I was on the pump getting poison pumped into me for three days, I felt miserable, and could do virtually nothing. I sat on the couch in our library in the corner, put on junk TV (mostly HGTV) as background noise and tried to nap to escape the misery, but often just hunkered down feeling awful. Whenever Alan describes it, he said it was like I had a bad flu. I usually jump in to say that it is much worse than feeling like you have the flu. When I told my friend this story, she agreed. She also said she was always exhausted and in her first round of chemo, like me, suffered from terrible nausea. This round is not as bad for her or for me. There is uneasiness, but no full blown nausea so far.
As we discussed our next course of action, she told me she now has weekly chemo, which would make me crazy, but which will end in 8 weeks. Then she goes on to 6 weeks of radiation. Once that is done, she will take the post breast cancer drug, tamoxifen, to lessen the chances of a recurrence. When she said she would be done in the summer with her treatment, it hit me once again that my treatment has no end in sight. Mind you, I am happy to have no end in sight because the alternative right now is that I would die from the cancer. I have not yet reached a state where there is full remission and no sign of cancer cells in my body. I do not know when I will reach that state so my plan, as I have said before, is to last a long time, going from treatment to treatment until the magic bullet, whatever it may be, kills the cancer to complete remission, or keeps it so tamped down that I continue to live my life for years and years. Her diagnosis is bad, and I know she is worried about a recurrence. Despite that, I could not help but think how nice it would be to know that I have a time period when treatment is done and that there is no sign of cancer. Instead I have the opposite, and may be facing even more decisions about treatment in the near future.
Over this past week, I ended up at the doctor’s on Tuesday because I have been bleeding. He sent me to a gyn/oncologist who did biopsies of my cervix and uterus and did not like the look of what she saw in my uterus. There are three possibilities – (1) what she saw is benign, (2) it is metastasized cancer from my gastric cancer or, and this is frightening, (3) it is another primary cancer site. Coincidentally, I was told this news on April 22, 2015, exactly one year to the day I was told that I had metastatic cancer. My daughter, who took me to this appointment, told me never to see or talk to a doctor on April 22 again.
I was blown away by the possibilities and could not help but become emotional about this. It would mean I would be ineligible for the clinical trial I am on and would have to do a whole new course of treatment. It also means fighting two sources, not one. My reaction was anger – anger at the cancer and at the fact that once again, I have no control over where the cancer may show up. I want to beat up these rogue cells so that they are totally destroyed. I spent this morning after yoga visualizing, as I often do, Pac-man eating them non-stop while they try to flee. I visualized Pac-man being unremitting in its pursuit and catching every single one. I also visualized kick-boxing them to oblivion. I will know next week the results of the tests, but now have to do a Pet-scan Monday (also looking at an ovary), have my clinical trial check-up Wednesday, and then see the gyn/oncologist Thursday. My two weeks off chemo have been, and will be, spent in a lot of doctor appointments. This for someone who rarely had to see a doctor in the past. I feel now that I am a professional patient.
Whatever the news, I have promised myself I will let myself cry with either relief or anger, and then set my sights to the fight. I will not give up. Cancer, you do not know with whom you are dealing. I refuse to let you win……