Sick and Tired

I have been under the weather for almost two weeks now. This past weekend I spent almost all of it in bed sleeping off this crud. I don’t know what it is and it tends to worry me. As much as I hate to see other family members ill, I’m really glad they all have what I have–it means, in a way, that this is probably not cancer related. It is just kicking me in the butt much harder than everyone else. Then Justin came home with a letter from his school saying that there was a confirmed case of H1N1 Flu present in his school. It really wigged me out. Lots of disinfecting, sanitizing, and handwashing going on here.

I had my yearly physical last night. I sat face to face with the woman who didn’t listen to my moans and groans for a year and just thought I was in need of Xanax or Prozac or both. I know she felt bad, but instead of rubbing it in, I just filled her in on how the year has gone. I wish I wouldn’t have been overtired and wiped out from my huge cold. It makes me more emotional and when she was asking me big questions, I just couldn’t help it, I started crying. God, I wish I wouldn’t have done that. Then, she thought she was right in her initial assessment of what kinds of medications I should be taking. That made me even more upset because why can’t someone just cry anymore without someone thinking they need to be in a doped up state just to relate to what’s going on in their lives. She has put me off to the nurse practitioner all year–since my diagnosis. I’ve been mad at this doctor for a year. Last night I was just too tired and feeling like crud to tell her how I felt about that. The one thing I was really hoping she would help me out on was my request to have an ultrasound done. She wouldn’t. I cried. Again.

Do I think I need an ultrasound? I don’t know. Do I want an ultrasound. Yes. I worry constantly about this metastasizing to my ovaries or my uterus. Pap smears only detect cervical cancer and I will admit–that as unpleasant as those exams are, there are worse things and usually they never bothered me much. Last night–my first one since all this has happened to me–was more anxiety-ridden than any other I had ever had. I had to sit on my hands so she wouldn’t see them shaking. What if? What if something comes back on that? It’s been 7 months since my initial diagnosis–what could happen in that time frame? I know the tumor that was found was said to be a grade three–most severe–even for as tiny as it was and that it was multiplying very rapidly. Could other radicals have found a host by now and be multiplying elsewhere?

Could it be that this is the reason why I am soooooo exhausted anymore? I just can’t believe that a few months ago I had been working and studying 20 hours a day and getting 4 hours of sleep–if I was lucky–every night for three years. Now I can barely see straight come 7pm.

Is my body once again growing and feeding some dragon inside me? Without anyone willing to let me have an ultrasound or pet scan–how will I ever know? I would just like ONE of each–a baseline–to know where I started and that way if I was feeling symptoms of something they would have a marker of where it has come from. Especially now–when Jeff may be losing his job and that will result in a loss of insurance benefits–which makes me pre-existing almost everywhere else. While I have the insurance–just let me do it! Why can’t the doctors code it so it doesn’t look like it was routine? Why does it have to be assumed to be–especially when the initial cancer diagnosis is the underlying reason for wanting one in the first place. I just don’t get it. It makes me so angry. It makes me cry, because I just don’t feel like I’m being heard or that I am just another cancer patient. Trying to “live my life” as my first oncologist told me to do is nearly impossible at times. Its not the same. I don’t think it ever will be no matter how hard I try to carry on with a smile on my face. It just masks the deep pain I feel over the unknown.

Then again–would I really want to know? What if the scans came back and I was glowing like a fire cracker? Would I really want to see that? Would that make me even more overemotional? Probably. But–why wait until you have symptoms–then it’s too late. Wouldn’t you want to know if you have a huge brain tumor or spots on your lungs, or tentacles wrapped around your ovaries? The quicker you can have surgery and cut it out–the better your chances–right? I know it all sounds irratic, but these are the thoughts that keep me awake at night. It’s hard at times to forget, and I make it harder on myself when I don’t follow my nutrition regimine that my nutritionist has worked with me on all summer. Or when I forget to take my Tamoxifin. Major guilt trip. I feel like I have some sort of control with those things or with the exercising, but I am still partly in denial and not being consistent. I have not fully jumped on the bandwagon–I did early on, but now I am falling off and being drug by the cart. I know I need to recommit. I know.

Could it be the Tamoxifin that’s wiping me out? I know it has played a part in my early menopause and with that–could that be making me so tired? Speaking of the Tamoxifin, I tried to see if I could have the doctor’s office prescribe all 5 yrs. worth of meds. in advance. I am terrified that we won’t have insurance and I will not be able to even afford the cost of my prescriptions each month. I have no idea what the cost is, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, right? So, I called there and I didn’t even think about the shelf life factor until the nurse pointed it out. She also really sounded odd and then she told me that they could only refill the Rx monthly so that individuals would be less inclined to sell the drugs elsewhere. Oh my gosh, great, now my oncologist’s office thinks I’m a pill pusher on the black market somewhere and I will be watched for that. It made me laugh in a way and then I realized that there are probably thousands of women in just the same boat I’m in–if not worse. Think about all the women in third world countries who don’t get the Tamoxifin. Then, I think about how I live in America and I will be considered pre-existing here pretty soon–unless an insurance miracle happens and Jeff gets a new job without a pre-existing condition clause.

Is it that it takes a very long time for your body to recover from chemo–(even though I only had one full treatment before becoming severely allergic and going into respiratory arrest)? how long does it take before your energy levels return? Do they?

Is my body fighting against something or just trying to still heal? I know 6 months later, my body is still not draining the lymphatic fluid correctly. Only two lymph nodes were taken out in surgery and my body should have, by now, compensated and learned how to move the fluid through my body. But it still pools under the scar tissue in my chest and it is painful. Weirdly–the whole top of my chest is numb–all the nerves severed, but deeper–around the muscle–it’s still terribly painful. How long will that last? Will it last forever? Is it my body trying to tell me to lay down and get vertical so the fluid can move better? Is my body just working overtime? I do worry about that lymphedema every day and knowing how its pooling in my chest doesn’t help my worries. The surgeon doesn’t seem too worried although in my 2nd followup with him two weeks ago, he was concerned about the continued pain factor I’m having. He didn’t suggest anything, though–so I guess I just live with it.

Will I ever feel the same?

Will my psoriasis ever go away? It seems to be worse these days and that was one of the first indications that I found that alerted me to something being wrong. I know stress exacerbates psoriasis and I am truly amazed I am not covered head to toe in the stuff. Be thankful its just on my elbows, right?

Is the constant stress of the cancer, my self-image, my oldest daughter, how everything is affecting my younger children, my husband’s impending job loss, the uncertainty that will bring to us financially, the loss of benefits, the mounting medical bills for me and for Jasmine, the stress on our marriage and all of our relationships just taking its toll and no amount of counseling can really fix ALL the triggers at this point?

Once this metastasizes–it is really hard to detect if it goes to the ovaries or to the uterus. Why can’t we just schedule a hysterectomy at this point. I’m really inwardly wigging out about this and even though my new oncologist doesn’t want to start “butchering” for no good reason especially when the genetic tests have all come back fairly positive–I can’t help but think–Isn’t cancer a good enough reason? I suppose if I wanted it done badly enough and threw a big enough temper tantrum–I’d get my way–but am I just being over reactional about it? If I’m no longer using the stuff–take it out. That’s three less places for this to land and I will know that I am not going to die from those associated cancers.

Sigh. Sometimes my brain gets so ramped up with these thoughts that they just spew out onto the page. I have to keep coming back to my bible to try to help quiet myself. My goal of self-quieting has been a hard one to tackle this year. I think it also gets revved up as my doctor visits start coming. I will go see the plastic surgeon tomorrow to talk about reconstruction–something I totally didn’t think I was ready for, but with the possibility of losing insurance and the fact that they will now pay for a boob job–I’m going to talk about the options. It may not even be an option, but I have to go and check it out or I will be mad at myself if I let the opportunity slip away. Next week, I see my oncologist for a 3 month check up. I hope we will look at bloodwork and see if anything shows up there. I don’t know what I should be asking him at this point because I just feel like everyone wants me to “live my life”. If any of you have any questions I should be mulling over for him, please let me know. I would welcome them whole heartedly.

I received my long awaited call from NAFCC (National Assoc. for Family Child Care) that my long overdue national accreditation observation is about to happen. I have been working on it for two years. I applied for the observation the end of December 2008. Normally, you should get a call between 4-6 weeks to schedule the observation. Here we are 9 months later and I will finally undergo this on October 6, 2009. They have been swamped since revising their re-accreditation standards and since I am a newbie, I guess, I was not a priority. I often think of what that would have been like should I have gotten that call within the normal time period. I was just getting diagnosed with breast cancer. I would not have been ready for that at all. Looking back, I really am surprised I made it through the summer and really glad that this observation is coming while the house is quieter. I guess I should be grateful that it is happening after my mastectomy, after all the big rowdy boys went off to school, after a regular naptime had been re-established for the little ones, and after my head came back from Bizarro World.

Since this call came through, I haven’t been able to think about too much else in the past week–including the cancer stuff and I have truly welcomed the break. It makes me realize that when I am working on something I’m passionate about, I get a lot accomplished————(Why can’t I get truly passionate about my cancer?)———- I’ve been going through all my checklists making sure all my T’s have been crossed and my i’s have been dotted. I have a book that takes me a few hours to get through each time because I am really focusing on doing my best. I have been through it several times and plan on several more read throughs. I spent all last week working on my parent teacher conferences and getting those in order. I was glad to get them all done so I could move on to more paperwork that has been lagging. I screwed up my classes this year, but I am not going to screw up this. I have worked too hard. I want to be able to look back on 2009 and know that despite the huge setback, I was able to accomplish this major accomplishment. Usually centers or schools or colleges are accredited. It isn’t that often that in-home providers become accredited. So, I am working day in and day out right now and everyone in my family has their very own honey-do lists. I’ll get there slowly, but surely and quite honestly, I’m ready–its just the details I’m going back for. Tons of details, but it will all come together.

I’ve also been allowing several college students studying at St. Ambrose Univ. to come tour my environment. This is good practice for me as they are able to give me fresh eyes. They are students studying to be teachers–how I wish I could go back to school–but I am not ready yet. Maybe next year. Maybe this is why I was supposed to ultimately take the break from my college courses this year. To ready myself for accreditation. To make sure my head was still in the game. I can honestly say that I was in a perfect position to give up on everything I had worked for professionally. Just chuck it and spend my days playing with my family. It was a summer where I was re-evaluating everything in my life and trying to figure out if things were still working or if they needed changing in some way or another. When I look at my chosen profession, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love working with kids. I love where I work. I love the tools I get to work with! Some people provide child care as a means to an end, a temporary job while their own kids are young, but me–it really drives me. I absolutely love what I do and when I had really looked at all the reasons why I do what I do, I realized my head was ready to take on the observer that would come spend the day with me. If I could just shake this illness now…

We celebrated my son’s 6th birthday this past week. Time flies. I asked him what the best present he got was and he looked at me and told me it was me and that he was super happy I wasn’t dead. “Gee, thanks, babe–I love you too” is what I responded with. ­čÖé I’m grateful I got to see him turn 6 and I am glad I’m not dead yet. Lord knows how I’ve worried over that all summer. So, I’m grateful I’m alive. I’ve survived my diagnosis for 7 months now. Almost a year. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

I have begun a Wellness class at the YMCA. It is 12 weeks of free personal training–2X/wk. for 1 1/2 hrs. each eve. The best part–its free! I get to work with a personal trainer for free for 12 weeks! I missed the first class because I was sick two weeks ago. I went to both classes last week and thought I was going to die each night. I began working on my WII fit on the off nights, but this cold/flu is really pulling me down. I am so happy for the outlet and MAKING ME a priority. I have met a handful of other breast cancer survivors that are in various stages of their disease or treatment and I just know that will be instrumental in my mental comeback. I think being able to dedicate time to working out will also help me release those endorphins I haven’t seen in a very long time which will help relax me, help me sleep better, make me feel like WANTING to recommit to my nutrition plan again, making me WANT to be more consistent with my med taking, and maybe inthe process, I will lose the 30 pounds I’ve tacked on. UUUGGGHHH! I am bigger than I was when I was pregnant with Jordan (she was the biggest baby)! Could it be the Tamoxifin that is helping me pack on the weight? I know that stress will pack on the weight also and I am surprised I’m not morbidly obese. The added weight make me more sluggish so, I have to lose it.

My other major concern is that I’ve been told that estrogen is stored in fat and since I’m sporting my own personal flotation device around my mid section these days–I need to find something to help me deflate it. I have to lose the weight–I worry every day that the hormone that is feeding my cancer is setting up shop and getting comfy in my fat. Ok–who am I kidding–I also want to lose the weight before my next class reunion next summer–I was so worried what everyone was going to think about my hair–now I just want to walk in and have everyone think, “wow, she looks great for having cancer”. I know. I know. Completely immature and shallow, but who wants to come back after 25 years looking like crap? Yes, I know all the stuff about the inner beauty, outer beauty, lasting beauty stuff, but when it comes right down to it, I really just hope that all my beauties are playing on a level field by then (and I really hope I drop 30 pounds!) :). I’ve run into a few friends from high school, they all happen to be nurses. They have all said I look good–my color is good and since they work with sick people all the time, they can tell when a person is sick. I guess I’ve got that going for me. Problem with that is–I’d rather have hair and a boob–omg–I just did it–I said something very generically–I take that back–let me be specific…

I’d rather have a headful of healthy, blonde, soft, stylishly coiffed hair that I could seductively whip around should I be in the mood for some lovin’, be able to pull it back when I’m feeling playful, and be able to run my fingers through it to tousle it and have that wind blown look that most women dream of. And–I’d rather have two boobs–the same size–preferably a little lifted and energized looking with a natural looking nipple tattooed on the new one. I used to wonder about having bigger boobs and although I wouldn’t mind them a tad larger, I’d now just be happy to look like I did. So a perky 34B would be great. Afterall, it’s not the size–it’s how you package them! I think that’s it–have I forgotten anything? Please feel free to let me know if that wish needs a little more something something. I will be checking out the silicone stockroom tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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How the Hell am I Supposed to Know?

Have you ever thought about what you would want to say and to whom if you were drawing your last breath on Earth? I had an opportunity to find out just exactly what would filter through my mind almost a week ago Thursday, May 28,2009. I went in for my chemo treatment and ended up having such a severe allergic reaction to the drugs that I came close to checking out–for good. I’ve spent the past several days reviewing in my mind what happened and it makes me more and more frustrated. The doctor also seems to be giving very vague and watered down information to me which insults my intelligence and leaves me feeling even more like I just can’t trust anyone anymore.

On this particular day, I worked until 12:45 pm and then raced off to place my own child at a friend’s home so I could go get treatment. I almost forgot that I needed to do something with him. Jeff didn’t go with me this time because I really didn’t see the necessity. He’d be bored sitting around for hours and I would either nap or chat with the other ladies I usually got paired up with. I wasn’t nervous about anything or stressed out about anything except that my daughter who had been home for two and a half weeks had taken off again. I was actually curious to see if I would have the same reaction as the last time.

Three weeks ago, it was so hard for me to differentiate whether the excruciating migraines (which lasted 9 days) were a result of the chemo, or because of the fact that three days prior to that treatment, I had all my dental work done–5 cavities filled and a root canal. It was so intense that I had to be put under for three and a half hours while the dentist hovered over me wearing his microsurgeon’s binoculars. When I tell people that they wonder, “Gee, when was the last time you saw a dentist” and my reply is “6 months ago”. This particular example of where my body was in a heightened state of deterioration may or may not be contributed to the fact that I have cancer, and I don’t know whether or not research has been done on this, but if you ask me personally-I do believe this was a telltale sign. It could very well have been a combination of both.

I had been told I wouldn’t have much of an appetite afterward and that food would taste different. Due to the pain and throbbing in my mouth, I wasn’t able to eat or sleep for 5 days straight. Everything did taste different, too. It had no taste, actually. My mouth seemed dead. There were no flavors and even when I tried to eat, I was forced to suck on everything because there was just too much sensitivity. I was also extremely wiped out once that shot of Neupogen hit my system the next day. After 9 days of these horrific headaches, I finally called the oncologist’s office and told them what was going on. It truly felt like there was something happening to my brain. I could only visualize the worst–possible bleeding, blood flow being severely restricted, something getting ready to burst, and so on and so forth. They talked to me like I was an idiot. Their response was “well, why in the world didn’t you take any Ibuprofen?” “Gee, I don’t know, because I’m a masochist, I guess–DUH…I was told I shouldn’t take it because it thins the blood. I wasn’t told I COULD take it–at some point–and when is that point?” I mean really, it’s not like I’ve ever done this before so–HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW???

In all, it has taken close to three weeks to be able to chew anything. There were several days where I called my new dentist up and asked about the problem. I even took all the children with me one day so I could have my bite filed down a bit in an attempt to lessen the skull piercing pain. I was told it may not take and we may need to pull the two teeth in question. I just prayed that wouldn’t happen and kept taking my antibiotics faithfully. I was desperate for some pain meds, but working with children during the day and transporting them to and from various activities–I knew that wouldn’t be an option–I’d be under the influence. I just stuck to Tylenol even though it didn’t work and so, I suffered through it.

Mother’s Day weekend I was wiped out. I was also emotionally drained because that was the weekend we found our daughter. I was stressed and worried and sick to my stomach about what was going on with her. Through it all, I managed to take her to the doctor to get her the medicines she needed for a host of illnesses. I also ran kids to birthday parties and coffee house meetings so I could get to the bottom of some girl drama with my young daughter, her friend, and her friend’s mother. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything but cry. I had reached an all-time low. Not about the poison that was filtering through my veins, not about the constant questioning that I submitted myself to everyday, but for my daughter and for my best friend who was losing her dad to stage 4 lung cancer. While in Virginia over the holidays, she received her news. Just a few weeks later, I received mine. Together we have cried and bitched and moaned and occassionally laughed. We have been there for each other and had it not been for each of us–the other wouldn’t have been able to get through these life changing events. I was at the visitation this past Tuesday where they said goodbye to her dad. She and I were just becoming close when my dad died exactly one month shy of two years ago. We’ve been through a lot–her and I–we both have teens that have pushed every limit possible and thankfully we have been able to lean on one another and vent our frustrations. We are both childcare providers and we both are going to school together. We are both at the same point on the wheel at the moment. As it happens, life has thrown a huge crow bar into our wheels and we have both come to a screeching halt. On that Mother’s Day weekend, I cried for my friend. I knew what it was like to lose a father. I knew it wouldn’t be long and I prayed he went in peace. I’m glad he did.

Here it is now four weeks later and I just can’t believe it’s been one week since this life-threatening episode happened to me. I really didn’t expect anything to happen. I walked into the place and had a seat after checking in. I was called into the examining room where the Dr. came in to talk to me and see how I was doing. I really didn’t have much to report and I had told myself not to forget talking to him about the Ibuprofen, but I did. From that room, I was taken to the other side of the building where the chemo rooms are. I’ve never been given a private room, they’ve always been communal. I don’t mind that because there are other women there in various stages of their cancers and I have gotten a lot of information from the ladies in those rooms.

The first time I went, Jeff took me. I remember it being a gorgeous day outside. My spirits were up and I was totally packed and ready for a long day. One of my daycare moms, Tracy, gave me a care package that morning. It had trashy magazines to read, lemon heads (supposed to take away the metallic taste you might get in your mouth), gum, a little personal fan (in case I got a hot flash), and a new water bottle (pink–just for the occasion). I was so touched by that gesture and I realized I had not thought of taking any of that stuff, but she also has family members who have gone through this and so she knew more of what to expect than I.

Last Thursday, however, I was in a rush. I hadn’t packed anything and really didn’t worry about it since there was a TV in each chemo room, a small fridge, snacks, blankets and lazyboys to recline in. I did pray that something more positive would be on the TV this time. The first time I was there the ladies and myself were glued to Elizabeth Edward’s interview with Oprah where they discussed her husband’s affair and her battle with breast cancer. Hers is terminal. I wondered if that was a sign that first day. On this day, there was only one other gal in the room. Her husband was with her and she was sending him off to poke around Home Depot for a couple hours. We started to chat and it turned out she was past staging. Totally terminal. She told me that, at first, she had had stage 2 with no node involvement. She had gone through a mastectomy, chemo, remission for a year, and now it was back–widespread throughout her bones and brain. She was now undergoing chemo again–heavier duty stuff, radiation to the brain–resulting in hearing loss, and the cancer had deteriorated her vertebrae up where it meets the skull and she could no longer hold her head up. This resulted in spinal surgery where rods and metal plates were fused to her upper spine. How depressing is that. I know. Totally. Yet, I keep getting paired up with patients with stories like this. It is doing nothing for my emotional stability. It doesn’t give me encouragement or hope and I am not sure if its just a random draw as to what room I am put in, or if Iam put in there to boost THEIR faith and hope.

The last time I had treatment I made it through the whole bag of Taxotere and it wasn’t until the last half hour of it that I started to feel some weird stuff–my eyes were burning and watering, my throat was on fire, my chest felt really tight and it was hard to breathe–but it was somewhat tolerable. I didn’t say anything at first because I figured this was what having chemotherapy felt like–afterall it is poison that’s being infused into your veins. I remember really trying hard to withstand the drug, but with 10 minutes left of the bag, I had to tell the nurse. She said to me, “well, honey, you’re having an allergic reaction–why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

My response to her–“HOW THE HELL WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW?”

Geez, I’ve never done this before, I don’t know what is normal. I’ve never had an allergic reaction of this kind before–and I’m allergic to a lot of stuff. Nothing was explained to me beforehand. I wasn’t prepped on what signs to watch for. It really felt like she was considering me an idiot–like–“Duh”. She then turned the meds off and switched me to Prednisone, Benadryl, and Saline before turning the Taxotere back on to finish out the drug. I thought it was odd that if I was having an allergic reaction to the Taxotere–of any magnitude–they would stop that drug–I mean–I was almost done with it–why not just stop that and switch to the Cytoxin at that point? I don’t have the medical knowledge or training when it comes to this stuff and so as I watched the drip start again, I paused and thought…

HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW…

So, as I sat in my Lazyboy recliner chatting away with the terminal gal, I apprehensively watched the different drips of liquid oozing from their bags and traveling down toward my vein. For the first hour and half everything was fine. Through my IV, I was given 2 bags of Prednisone (because I fell asleep early the night before and forgot to take my pills), one bag of Benadryl (just in case I started to have an allergic reaction like last time), and a bag of saline to wash it all out of the line before the Taxotere drug started. A woman from Gilda’s Club came in and we were all laughing when I got this familiar feeling. The same feeling as the last time only this time it came on with such ferocity and within the first couple of minutes after the Taxotere started that I had only a moment to react. My eyes flew up to the bag hanging above me and through burning and watering eyes I noticed that I was at the very beginning of the bag.

“Shit–I have to get through the whole bag ‘, I thought in an instant. Then I felt my throat begin to swell. What a strange feeling that is–but it was just like the first time only it was rushing in like an F4 tornado. I struggled to gasp for air and my arm went up to wave to the two ladies that I was in distress. I could tell my face was getting red. My lungs felt as though someone had taken a rope and wrapped it around both of them, tying and overhand knot, and pulling tight. Initially, I began to panic, but somewhere I remembered not to expend my energy by flailing. I never saw the woman from Gilda’s jump up and race down the hallway in search of help. I did hear her screaming, though. I felt someone thrust a bedpan in my left hand that was clenched tight into a fist. I remember thinking–“oh, God, I hope I am not going to start foaming at the mouth or vomit in front of all these people that have just run into the room. Then, my mouth filled with cortisol–that stress hormone. I was just talking to my nutritionist about that last week. He told me that in a fight or flight mode your body produces this and in extreme cases your mouth will fill with something that tastes like copper metal. Sure enough, the most rancid mouthful of copper was now trying to make its way out of my mouth. Is that what the bedpan was for? I remember my body slumping over. It was as if I was in a coma–unable to move, speak, or breathe, but fully awake and aware of what was going on around me. I know at least a minute and a half had to have gone by by the time the doctor came running in the room. I had been curled up on the Lazyboy with my legs tucked underneath me and he straightened me out, but I was still slumped over. I couldn’t move. He got down on the floor and looked into my eyes and asked, “Can you breathe?”

Mind you, by now I was purple and the pressure in my head was so great that I thought something would surely explode. So, when he said that to me I wanted desperately to say sarcastically, “Does it look like I’m breathing?” but I couldn’t. I looked hard into his eyes as I felt more and more like darkness was approaching. With my eyes I told him…

“Please find my daughter, Jasmine, and tell her I love her.”

“Please get my cell phone and call my husband and let him know what’s happening–and tell him I love him.”

“Please find my other children and tell them that I love them.”

and then I thought…

“This is it. I’m going to be staring into the eyes of a man I don’t trust as I leave this world. I’m holding the hand of a strange woman.”

I remember him telling a nurse to go get the epinephrine. I thought–“oh, shit, that’s gonna hurt when they jab that needle in my leg”. I remember her returning. I saw her standing there, not with the epi-pen, but with a syringe. They were going to put it into my IV which had been turned off and replaced with more benadryl. But she never came. It was never put in. I remember pretending I was diving into an olympic sized swimming pool. I was swimming the length of it underwater very slowly. I kept telling myself…

“When I get to the other side, I’ll come up for air”.
“When I get to the other side, I’ll come up for air”.
“When I get to the other side, I’ll come up for air”.

Then the lights went out. When I opened my eyes, I was covered with a blanket, my breathing was very shallow, and I had oxygen up my nose. I don’t know how much time had passed or what happened, but I knew I was going to have to stay for a long time while they watched me. I was so tired. Everyone was gone and every once in a while someone came back to check on me. I reached for my phone and tried to call Jeff several times, but he never picked up. I tried to text Jasmine when my new friend, Denise, from down the street texted me inquiring when my chemo was. I was still pretty out of it and I sporadically told her what happened and that I was alone and couldn’t get ahold of Jeff. This woman that I had really just started talking to in the past couple months came to be with me. I was really touched. She drove me home and helped me pick up Justin. I will always remember and be grateful for her texting at just that moment. A sign. God is putting new and old friends in my life to help me when I need help.

I was told to come back on Monday of this week and the doctor and I would discuss options. I was able to go to my appointment through the help of my dear friend, Becky, who was off from childcare and making arrangements for her dad’s funeral the next day. She watched a few of my daycare kids for an hour so I could make that appointment. Jeff met me there and together we went in to listen to what the onco man had to say. Remember back when I said I had decided to like the guy? I take that back, now. I’ve been getting increasingly annoyed with this man. I truly feel that he gives me information in a very watered down fashion. He talks vaguely and I need specifics. I’m a big girl, I can handle it, just give it to me straight–BE SPECIFIC. But he’s not and I start getting upset and so once again, our visit ended in a deadlock between us. It went like this…

He comes in and shakes my hand and acknowledges Jeff. We exchange salutations and he says, “So, Thursday didn’t go so well”.

CJ: “No, it didn’t”
Dr.: “I don’t think it would be in your best interest to pursue any further treatment–do you?”

HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW?

CJ: “I don’t know, are there any other options?”
Dr.: “Well, yes, but we can no longer give you anything in that whole class of drugs now because the first time you had a mild reaction and this past Thursday was very severe. The next time would have grave consequences”

I’m thinking…..”DUH”

CJ: “I’m curious why you didn’t do anything–call 911, administer the epinephrine, etc”
Dr.: “Well it looked like you were going to come out of it’

Was that before or after I blacked out? Really–what was the guy waiting for–my heart to stop beating? I went over two minutes without oxygen. I don’t know about any of you–but it’s stuff like that that makes me not trust the people I’m paying unbelievable amounts of money to help KEEP ME ALIVE. ???

Dr.: “We could continue with another course of treatment that consists of 3 drugs and would need to be taken 5 more times. Usually it’s 6 treatments, but since you’ve already had one, you’ll need only 5 more. The drugs are Cytoxin–which you already have had, Methotrexate, and 5FU”

“Well, that last one is appropriately named”, I thought.

CJ: “What is the difference between the two courses”
Dr.: “This course was used a long time ago–like 20 years back. It’s side effects are severe diarrhea and mouth sores”.

That’s just great. That’s just what I need. I’m so sick of all this crap (no pun intended) and I just want my old life back.

Dr.: “It seems to be tolerated pretty well, but you need to decide whether you are interested in pursuing chemotherapy at all or if you just want to stop. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?”

HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW?

CJ: “I don’t know what the benefits or risks are of these drugs. I don’t have any information on them. Is taking them going to increase my chances for any other major problems–heartattack, stroke, anneurism, other cancers?”

CJ: “If I don’t do the chemotherapy at all, then what? What happens then? How do you monitor me? Are you going to give me a whole body scan at some point? How do you tell if its coming back? How do you tell where its coming back? How do we proceed from there and for the rest of my life?”

I was so upset. Here I was back at square one again–needing to make this decision all over. It was just so overwhelming. Is it good enough that I’ve already had one treatment? Am I settling with just one treatment? Was that enough to eradicate all the free radicals that could be swimming around my lymphatic system just lying in wait for a new host site? Or do I go for the new course of treatment. Afterall, I already chose chemotherapy the last time foregoing the study. That was my huge gamble, my roll of the dice. I made that decision once and then I stuck with it. Should I do that again–I mean–if I lost all my hair for just one treatment–I’m gonna be pissed.

Dr.: “It just seems like you want to be in control of everything”.

Again, I wanted to say to him…”Duh”.

CJ: “Of course I want to be in control. I have very valid concerns about my care and the people I have entrusted with my life. I don’t feel that my questions are being answered. I feel that you want me to make a decision rashly and without the information I need to make an INFORMED decision”.

Dr.: “What is it I haven’t explained over and over? I cannot tell you if its going to come back. There is no guarantee with chemotherapy”.

CJ: “I want to know how you can tell if its coming back”

Dr: “I can’t”

CJ: “That doesn’t make sense–how can others get PET scans that let them know if they have anything growing somewhere else. Why can’t we do that?”

I’m sorry, but there just seems to be a few links missing in the chain. There is specific information that is not being told to me. Just tell me, dammit, is it an insurance thing? Is there a protocol for these types of things? Do you have to do X,Y,and Z before I get the PET scan? Am I even thinking of the right type of scans? Am I using the right terminology?

HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW?

Jeff: “I think you’re worried about the end of this process and not focused on the here and now”

CJ: “No, in order for me to make the decisions I need to make here and now, I need to know the timeline of events. It’s how I process things. Tell me everything from start to finish so I can process all the steps in the process. So I can wrap my brain around what is happening and I can choose to deal or not deal with it’.

Dr.: “I will not give you this PET scan. We just don’t use this as a way of diagnosing. You would just become a victim of technology because we all have cancer cells and you may see something that may not be something we need to worry about.’

CJ: “I understand that, but you may be able to detect new tumors forming on major organs and how are you going to know if something is coming back if you don’t do scans and at that point–will it be too late? And if you catch it in the early stages then we have a better chance of getting rid of it.”

Dr.: (fully exasperated) “Listen, just go live your life and don’t be so consumed with this”

CJ: “WHAT?? I would love to. Do you think I want to have poison pumped into me? Do you think I wanted to wake up to this diagnosis? Do you think I wanted to have my breast cut off? Do you think I wouldn’t love to just have my old life back? Do you think I wouldn’t love to be sitting somewhere other than here in this office? I would LOVE to go live my life. But, my life is forever changed by this. No, it doesn’t need to define me, but you tell me one person that doesn’t worry about whether or not there cancer is going to come back–and where it will come back–and how severe it will be when it does. Maybe survivors or patients that are in remission are able to sleep a little easier the further out from their surgery and treatment they get, but when you are still in the thick of it–how can you not be consumed by it? This cancer has not only invaded my body, but it has invaded my sleep patterns, my dreams, my thoughts, my fears, my hopes, my family, my jobs, and all the little details that make up me. It has affected my appearance to the point that I am reminded every minute of every day that I have cancer. I have a 10 inch scar across my concaved chest where all the nerves have been severed and I can no longer feel anything. I have lost all my hair, gained 20 pounds, and watched the bags under my eyes get darker. You don’t have this. You are not emotionally invested in me, but the people around me are and this has affected their lives also. They would love for things to be back to normal also. My normal is so far removed from what it used to be that I can only dream about my old life now. It will never be like that again.”

I wasn’t crying, but my eyes were filled with tears. I was pissed. And you know what he said to me?

Dr.: “It seems like your on the verge of a mental meltdown and you really need to relax because that is half the battle”.

I had to suck in my breath. A mental meltdown? Are you freaking kidding me? I wasn’t–until he said that and then I was so angry that my eyes turned into slits–I knew at that moment, I looked like my mother on one of her good days. I was completely insulted. Even if I was going to have a meltdown–who is he to judge? Just because I don’t roll over when he tells me to and just because I come in there armed with questions and I am expecting specific answers to those questions–to him–that makes me a control freak. If I show a tear or two out of frustration–well, then, I’m on the verge of a mental meltdown. Maybe most patients worship their doctors. Maybe they will do anything that doctor says without questioning it. Maybe they don’t have the courage enough to stand up for their own bodies and their own health–but that’s not me. I’m trying to be proactive about my life, my health, my options. I can’t control the unknown, but I can try to control some of the knowns and how do you find out about those? All I wanted to know was basically–How are you going to monitor me if I don’t do the chemo? And in return, I get tactless, sexist remarks.

CJ: “Tell me this, how do you define remission? How do I get there? How do you know when you are no longer in remission?”

Dr.: “Remission is when your cancer hasn’t come back in a while”

Geez, I feel like I’m playing word games with my teenagers. Why can’t he be SPECIFIC?

CJ: “You’re idea of ‘a while’ and my idea may be totally different–what’s you’re definition”

Dr.: “Listen, you probably already are in remission”

CJ: “How do you know that? How can you tell? To me, there’s a wide disparity between ‘Probably” and definitely.”

Dr: “You’ll know.”

CJ: “How can you say that? What if I don’t? I didn’t know I had breast cancer.”

Dr.: “You’ll feel it.”

CJ: “What if I don’t? My own doctor didn’t feel anything–it was only detected through imaging. I just want to know how you are going to be able to tell if I’m getting this somewhere else. Are there blood tests you do that alert you to increased elevations in certain counts? Something that would make you say–‘oohh, we need to look into that further’ and then you order some scans? And why don’t we just go ahead and do the hysterectomy and even an ooferectomy (removal of ovaries) since the Tamoxifin (hormone blocking drug given for 5 yrs.) is known to cause uterine cancer.”

Dr: “That is major surgery and we don’t just do that without reason.”

How many more reasons does he need? Should I see a gynocological surgeon to talk to him/her about it? Has he forgotten the massive surgery I just underwent? If I am ok with it, why can’t we discuss it? Hysterectomies are done every day? Two less places for this cancer to land. I know I won’t die of ovarian, uterine or cervical cancer then.

Maybe I was not expressing myself or my concerns in a way that he understood. I knew he wasn’t giving me the answers I needed in a way that I needed them in order to process them and make a decision. I know he just wanted me to shit or get off the pot. Chemo or no chemo so we could go from there. I was hung up on what would happen if I chose no chemo. I know, to him, it must seem that my inability to make a quick decision was really indecisiveness or in essence inaction–procrastination. The look in his eyes and on his face spoke volumes of this. I tried to convey to him that this wasn’t like picking out my nail polish color for the week. We were at a standstill and I was keeping him from lunch. He got up to leave and he said,

“Why don’t you think about it for 24 hours and then call the office and tell me what you would like to do–if you decide on the chemo we’ll see you tomorrow”.

With that, he left. Well, that is impossible. I simply will not come in tomorrow on such short notice–I have other families that rely on me being there and they already took off Thursday and Friday of last week. I can’t wammie them like that. I simply won’t even think about that as an option until next week. I don’t know if that throws things off in the cycle or not. I don’t know if they HAVE to stay within a certain time frame. Maybe not doing it until next week kicks me out of the 5 cycle treatment and back into the 6 cycle treatment all over again. I just felt like there were too many things I wanted answers to and I wasn’t getting those answers. I needed to talk to other people and get their thoughts. I talked to Denise for a long time about what her follow up care is like. I wondered why I just couldn’t forego on the chemo for now and if it turns up somewhere else–start it then–or is it too late at that point? If all these women that are in these rooms have already been through it before and they are back again–then it really didn’t do them any good in the first place–did it? I needed to take a break from thinking about it.

I didn’t call them back the next day. I called my Aunt Pam. I talked to other survivors. I really talked to Becky and Denise. I called the nurse this past Wednesday and for 40 minutes we talked. She pretty much reiterated what he said and I felt myself frustrated all over again. We hung up with her promising to get specific answers and call me back during naptime. When she called later that day, I did get a couple nuggets out of her. I was told that the shot of Neupogen would no longer be part of the regimine and I was glad because it carries a risk of future Leukemia. She told me specifically that one treatment isn’t “good enough” because studies have shown that 4 treatments (or more) depending on the type and stage is the magic number. FINALLY, something a little specific–one question down. I was told that I would have regular 6 month checkups where I would have a mammogram and we’d discuss how I was feeling.

That’s it? How is it that everyone else I talk to has regular CT scans of their bones, brain, full body, and chest x-rays. I was originally told the likelihood of it coming into the other breast was minimal and that this type of cancer usually travels to ovaries, bones, brain, lungs, and/or liver–major organs. You can’t even detect ovarian cancer through yearly pap smears. By the time its found–its usually too late. I watched Farrah’s Story the other night on TV and she was getting all her scans done each time she went in. Is this something just for the uber rich?

I know he’s not God–he can’t tell me whether I’ll get it back anytime in my lifetime again. He can’t “cure” me, but there has to be a way that he can tell if I’m growing a tumor somewhere else. I know in my gut there’s an answer to this somewhere. I went onto the Cancer Treatment Center’s website and looked at the list of things you would have to bring with you to your initial consultation. In that list–all your CT scans. I’m to the point where I just need to talk to another oncologist to see what the protocol is. I cannot afford to take off a week for the initial visit at these Centers, but I will try to get in with Denise’s oncologist. I’m really not trying not to pick fights with my surgeon or my oncologist, but dammit, I know there are answers out there. I’ve realized that it’s not so much the cancer I’m fighting as it is the fight I am battling each day with the insurance company and the doctors that are supposed to be looking out for me. I just don’t trust anyone. Not one doctor I have has given me reason to do that yet. Am I just being a bitch? I hope so. Babe In Total Control of Herself. I am trying to look out for me.

I’m in need of advice. I need SPECIFIC advice that deals with these drugs and also the types of follow up care I should expect to receive at each future visit. I’ve researched the drugs and its all so worrisome. I think back on this past week and all the conversations I’ve had with friends, survivors, terminally ill patients, and medical professionals. I’m taking all this information in and trying to come up with an informed decision. If you can help me–please leave comments because…

HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW.

Started Tracking on 12-1-09