When I think of the phrase, you've come a long way, I remember those ridiculous adverts for Virginia Slims cigarettes I saw in the magazines of my childhood. Cancerous, but slimming. Oh, wait, the slim part was just a description of the cigarette. Right.
Anyway, forgive that silly, random memory, but actually, I have come a long way on the road of my cancer treatment...which has nothing to do with smoking. Or bad adverts.
The early days were hard. Those weeks I spent waiting for test results, knowing they were not going to be good, were torturous. After surgery (mastectomy), my squeamish self hated looking at and emptying my drains. I actually arranged the bathroom mirrors in such a way that I didn't have to look at myself! It was a shock to my brain.
Having those drains come out was the first uplifting thing that happened. The memory of that physical and mental liberation is a happy milestone to be forever cherished.
The following tests, MUGA and CT scans, felt ominous, but the results were as good as they could be. I had my mediport installed in early January and started chemotherapy on January 15th.
Going back to work a week later was at first very stressful, especially since I had to deal with a human resources department filled with people who were packing up and leaving; our small bank had been bought out, and the complete conversion would happen very soon. When I started back half days, I was not aware that "half" meant exactly four hours, not a minute more or less; if I clocked in at 8:03, I'd better clock out at 12:03. When the new company took over, I had three chemo treatments completed, and quickly decided to come back full time.
Returning to a more normal work week was another chance to exhale. New Company actually gave us sick days! I haven't had separate sick days since my very first job--thirty years ago. I did not have to touch one of those until recently, since I was able to work every other weekend to make up for the time I spent in the chemo chair.
Ah, weekends: every other one was nice--even if I was working, I got out in time to enjoy feeling good. My treatments were on Thursdays, and my worst day would be two days later, the following Saturday. I wouldn't get up. Oh, I'd change my pj's, move from the bed to the futon, but....that's not fooling myself. I listened to NPR. Mike jokes that is seems a bit ghoulish, how they've kept Car Talk on the air, but those guys did so many shows that are too much fun to archive just yet. And Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me is too entertaining to resist, and if I was still awake, I'd catch This American Life. Sometimes I could actually get some reading done.
The bad days were not all equal. After four treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxan (lovely name, that), I was ready for four treatments of Taxol, which was not as fatiguing. And gradually, I regained full range of motion in my left arm.
Which brings me to another happy milestone: two weeks after my first Taxol treatment, my blood work improved quite a bit. I'd been frightened by the possibility that my treatment might be interrupted for a blood transfusion. Again, I'm squeamish. And want to get this over with. So, this was happy dance time, and I had the energy to do it!
That's not to say Taxol was a picnic. I developed neuropathy and my nails hurt. One morning, I had to use a pair of scissors to open a sugar packet, and opening jars was not an option. After that first treatment, I decided to hold an ice pack during the following ones, and I'm convinced it helped keep the side-effects from worsening in my fingers. Some people lose their nails, but I didn't. They are an intriguing--orange.
And then, the day of Last Chemo Treatment came. The treatment itself was uneventful and quiet. The Benadryl drip I got along with the Taxol put me to sleep for one last time....
When I got home, there were balloons!
My mother brought me a gift for each treatment. Yes, there's beer in that picture. Really good, local, hoppy stuff. Those balloons are still in the air this morning!
No, you may not have my mother. She's mine. (Well, not all mine, I do have siblings and nibblings and there are other special people who claim her as a surrogate.)
Along the way, there was another very important, happy outcome. Working for another company, starting in mid-February, meant that I also had to switch insurance coverage mid-chemo. Having already satisfied my maximum out-of-pocket expenses (chemotherapy is incredibly expensive), I feared that we'd have to start all over again with the new insurance company, and that is usually what would happen, fair or no. However, that is not what happened. New Company gave me full credit! The office staff where I was receiving treatment have yet to pick their chins up off the floor.
Yesterday was my day to meet another doctor. Silly me, I'd entertained the possibility that there might not be any reason to do anything else. Perhaps cancer treatment was over? Get the mediport out?
No. Dr. Radiologist and his friendly, helpful staff were very cheerful, but there will be six weeks of radiation. This form of cancer does have a woeful habit of recurring in a couple years, so radiating certain areas, just to make sure bad cells don't even think about growing back in the wake of chemo, is very much encouraged. My surgeon had already told me that this would be something I should do, but a girl can dream...
It's okay. It won't be chemo. Dr. Rad wears a button that says, Chemo is over. Forget the chemo. He's right. I'll get a sunburn, I'll put special lotion on it, then I'll be finished--probably around July 4th. These appointments will be a logistical pain, more than anything.
And the mediport will stay in until I'm done, and I won't whine about it. After all, it rarely bugs me.
And along the way, friends and family have sent me cards, good vibes, and food. Mike has been my personal protector, vacuumer, and fact-keeper.
And--I'm aware that I'm no fun anymore. And it's time to get up and out for walkies...