Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How is chemo therapy?

One of the things I was praying for before we went for our Oncologist appointment was that we would really know if chemotherapy was something we should do.

That may sound strange, but one of the most surprising things to me over the past few months is how many people choose to do treatments other than conventional therapies. There are many people I've heard of, in person and online, who chose alternative therapy, most to fairly good success.

I was worried that if the benefit of chemo was negligible and made only a small change to the chance of recurrence I wouldn't know what to decide. So I prayed about it and others prayed with us that we would know. The day before our appointment I was emailed this verse from a friend.

The story of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19:14 - "And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord."

Immediately I could picture us taking all the reports, treatment plans and opinions and spreading them out on a table before God. Letting him tell us what he thinks of it all. Deciding with us what is best. So that's how we were thinking going into the appointment.

The short of it is this: Without chemotherapy I have a 58% chance of recurrence within 10 years. With recommended treatment my recurrence rate drops to only 10%. To us that was a big difference. And suddenly the decision wasn't daunting anymore.

So I'm doing it. And now that I know what's coming I've been feeling confident that it's the right decision for us even though it'll be a long journey. I am on a fairly aggressive treatment plan. Every 2 weeks starting June 9 for 4 cycles and then every 3 weeks for 4 cycles. That should take me into October when I'll continue on with one of the "designer" drugs for another 13 cycles. After that will be hormone therapy and radiation.

I'm nervous about the side effects and how I'll feel, although the Oncologist seems to think I should handle them fine. I am young and healthy (besides cancer) - a good thing in her opinion. I almost feel like she was excited to have someone to treat who will be able to take everything she has to give! The two side effects I worry about the most are bone pain and mouth sores. But, here we go, getting ahead of ourselves again.

Lots of appointments coming up. I will have a portacath put in next week (a bit nervous about that too since you're awake for the procedure), I'm going to look at wigs (cheaper versions), get my hair cut short, stock up on groceries, do some fun end of year school stuff with the kids and try and prepare for a difficult summer (although I'm not totally sure how to do that).

I was just talking to a friend and she sort of laughed with me and said - 'it sounds like you're going on an adventure.' I think she's right. That is sort of how I feel (albeit an adventure I didn't choose - sort of like a scary, deep cave type of adventure where you don't know what to expect).

We were trusting Jesus to show us which way to go and not surprisingly he did!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The hair is the richest ornament of women - Martin Luther

I've been thinking ahead. I know – I said I wouldn't but with my first appointment with the Medical Oncologist on May20 – just one week from today I can't seem to help it.

The one thing I think about the most? Hair. Yes - I have cancer. A tumor was cut out of my body. I still can't stretch my arm or straighten my elbow and I'm thinking about hair. Or more to the point – the imminent lack of hair. Some hair I'm okay going without. Come on ladies – who wouldn't agree with me? To not have to shave your legs or underarms for an entire summer is a wonderful perk. Unfortunately along with that hair I will also lose eyebrows, eyelashes and the hair on my head.

I've always complained about my hair. Too thin, too limp, too mousy brown, not curly enough, not straight enough but now that I'm faced with the daunting prospect of actually not having it at all I find I will miss it dearly and that maybe it's not so bad. And it's not just the baldness but the how of the baldness that plagues me. How will it fall out? In patches? Over a few days or a few weeks? Will it be messy? Will it hurt? Will I always have ugly stubbly parts that never fall out? Should I shave my head in anticipation without even knowing if I'll actually lose my hair or just cut it short? And when should I do this? And who should do it for me – my wonderful hairdresser (and I wonder what she would charge for that!)? And will I like scarves, or hats or wigs?

I was on a website the other day that specialized in real hair systems (that's what they call it now instead of wig). It sounded great. You go in for a consultation and they take pictures of your hair, order hair that is similar, it comes in you put it on (supposedly a very comfortable fit) and then she cuts it to look like your hair. Great. I was totally into that. Maybe this wouldn't be too bad. A wig that doesn't look like a wig. My hopes were then dashed as I searched and finally located the price (buried in pages of FAQ's) of an estimated 1400 to 2200 dollars. $2000 dollars for something I hopefully won't have to wear after 6 months. My vanity does have a price. So far in my life I hadn't yet discovered what that price limit was – now I have. It's $2000 dollars for a wig, even if it is the best looking wig I've ever seen.

So scarves it is – I can get a nice one for $60 and I know the cancer centre has some for free (although I sort of doubt their trendiness). And maybe hats if I can find the cool deep ones that will cover some of my ears so they don't stick out! And maybe I'll rock the baldness.

That's what I hope. I hope that when the time comes all this speculation and freaking out will amount to nothing. I'll laugh while they shave my head and wonder what on earth I was worried about. I hope that I'll take it all in stride. With the matter of fact attitude I've been able to treat surgery 1 and 2. That no hair will be more liberating then embarrassing. That I'll I sit outside, go for walks, and have coffee with friends even though I'm bald and everyone will be staring at me. That Ana and Zach will get over the creepiness of a bald mamma with relative ease.

You know what the funny thing is? I haven't even heard yet which drugs the Oncologist will recommend. Maybe they'll be the non-hair falling out ones. One can only hope!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rain and Other Musings

I feel like I've talked about the weather a lot on this blog which is funny cause I'm not really a weather watcher - especially compared to Sam's family, who can be relied upon to know what weather is coming and when and how long it'll last, not only in their own province but also in ours and wherever else family happens to be living. (they are a farming family though - so it's par for the course)

But lately I feel like my moods are mirrored by the weather or perhaps more accurately -- my moods are completely swayed by the weather. And today it's rain...again. (Although to be fair it was a very beautiful day yesterday and I was able to soak up not only sun but some heat too.) After a rainy January, February, March and April it seems like May is destined to be the same. And it's depressing. And I feel no motivation for anything at all. A feeling that is not helped by this pesky little thing we're dealing with called cancer.

It's a weird place to be in - this space where I technically don't have cancer. It's cut out, scans show no signs of it and yet this journey is only just beginning. Treatment is around the next bend which has been hard to wrap my head around this week, especially after the great news of the cancer-free nodes. I don't have a definite treatment plan yet but my surgeon said that by a year from now I should be starting to feel like my old self. And between now and then is the great unknown. In the next 2-3 weeks I'll get an appointment at the cancer centre with an Oncologist and that will give me a better idea about what's next.

Also unhelpful to my motivation levels is my fairly useless left arm. After my first surgery I was very quickly back to normal with good movement, I could do pretty much anything. This time though my arm hurts all the way to my wrist and especially at my elbow so bending and straightening (mostly straightening) is quite sore and I can't reach anything at all above my head. It's given me an appreciation of those who have to live all of life with pain and disability. I'm whining after 2 weeks even with the knowledge that physio will most likely totally fix the problem within a few months. And there are those who live with pain like this always.

So what do I focus on to pull myself out of these doldrums? Well today I was aided by Starbucks and Chapters. My most favourite combination. Friday was a trip to my neighbourhood pedicure place and of course Sam and the kids help a lot. I feel blessed to have a family who totally wants to bless me. Zach has even changed his hug giving routine for me. Instead of tackling me around the waist with his usual bone crusher hugs he's opted for more gentler versions that are no less passionate! (funny enough a few loads of laundry actually helped my mood today too. Yes - I'm a cleaner and not being able to clean has been a bit of a downer this week!)

So that is my weather inspired post for the day. Not profound maybe - but honest. At least until the sun comes out!