I’m still here

Happy New Year, welcome 2017.

I was reminded (again) of this, my blog, when during the final weeks of 2016 a poster of Betty White made the rounds on Facebook stating  “I’m still here!  …”

Yeah; I’m still here.  I dropped the blog-ball when, towards the end of chemo, my fingers hurt too much to type out anything close to a cohesive sentence never mind then a paragraph.   One of the side-effects I experienced was the nails lifting off the nail bed which was painfully torturous.   A couple nails seemed to get infected, but soaking in vinegar then keeping them wrapped in a band-aid helped keep them intact.  Not so lucky with my toenails though, I lost the nails on my big toes, and halfway down on the middle toes.   Wearing shoes hurt for a long time.

But anyway, I am still here.  I finished the chemo and had a short break of about a month or so before I had surgery:  a lumpectomy and lymph nodes removal, and after a quick recovery from that there was 6 weeks of daily radiation.  I pushed to keep moving forward with my treatments as quickly as physically possible.  I wanted to beat this cancer to a pulp and not give it any chance to regroup and fight back (ie: come back)

I was tired.  Victorious but tired.  I took a two week, no agenda, vacation to the coast as water and salt air always seem to rejuvenate me.  And it did help as much as it could.  But I was worn down.  It was July 2015 and I couldn’t walk far without my legs feeling like they would give out.  I couldn’t do more than a flight of stairs up, and down was even more challenging.  My head was still foggy and I would get frustrated at work when I couldn’t quickly accomplish a task which I knew I had the ability to process.    Then I tried to dance.  I was weak, and tired quickly.  I could only take part in the warm ups.  But the worst was that the administration had moved our class out of the studio, and of our class – my troupe – most of my dance friends had moved on.

It has been and continues to be a long uphill climb of recovery.  I have had to push myself daily, and now looking back I am stunned at how physically drained I was.  But you know how it goes in life; when you are in the middle of something, you just have to keep pushing thru it one step at a time.  It’s not until later that you can look over the full situation and think wow – those were some pretty tough times.

As I was on this journey, the picture – the story –  I had in my mind was this:

I was a warrior in battle, hunting tiny monsters that were out to kill me, in a long dark murky canyon.  I had to travel through this canyon from east to west and I had to travel it alone.  I could see many loved ones at the top of the canyon walls shouting encouragement to me and occasionally one would swing down on a rope to give me something needed when I lost my sight or my foot got stuck, then they’d swing out of the canyon again to the precipice.   At first I was zapping many monsters with something like a wand, ala Harry Potter style. “Expelliarmus!” and each zap shot back a painful jab, but I was slaying them left and right, and recovering quickly.  After a few months of this, I was pretty beat up.  By then the canyon had gotten deeper.   My feet were heavy sloughing through the muddy floor where the sun could no longer reach.  The kickback from the wand had bruised my hands, my nails were getting torn from the fingers and my hair had fallen out.  Each purposeful step racked painfully thru my body, and with fierce intent I still hunted the monsters.   I could find no more and wearily climbed a slight plateau to rest.  It was elevated enough that I could hear the muffled sounds from my loved ones cheering at the top.

The next part of the journey terrified me.  I cried as I stood in front of an entrance to a cave of dark jagged rocks.  I would have to pass through this cave sideways, and with careful precise steps, otherwise it would cut me.  I needed to be on the lookout for the monsters as they sometimes hid in the dark caverns and I could not let even one be overlooked.  I was frightened to the core and wished I could just be teleported back to the top of the canyon right then.  I was not sure of my footing.  And, what if I ended up getting all cut up and in much more pain?  I didn’t think I could take any more; and yet – I could not take a chance on the monsters lurking in shadows and then coming back for me as they were known to do.  I finally steeled myself to take this step, to pass through this cave and make sure there was nothing hiding within.  When I started this journey, this battle, it was with intent to win and said “I WILL win this.”  I made it through the cave scarred with only two cuts, and the glorious declaration that no monsters were found.  I had probably got them all in my first leg of the journey.

None the less there was one leg left to go.  Looking at it, it appeared to be an easy path although with a steep incline.  With this part of the journey I had to quickly (and I did not feel like I could do anything quickly at this point) climb the path out of the canyon through a blazing sun.  I am prone to sunburn but this sun would burn and vaporize any remaining monsters if it shined on them.  I was feeling rather chuffed about my previous victory and propelled myself into this solitary race with that famous last wind.  I was doing quite well in fact, and as I got more and more tired in the uphill climb the thought of my old life, the life outside of the canyon, willed me on and gave me the energy I needed to keep up the pace.  I would think of songs to play at my “Kali Killed Cancer” party and think of choreograph for them.   I neared the end and saw my loved ones as excited to see me as I was them.   I approached the final rim and climbed out of the canyon; bloodied, burned, and bald.  Barely walking, yet intently saying “I did it.”    We all rejoiced.

And that was the story as it played in my mind.

I knew it would be a long recovery after all those battles;  the day I could bend forward and touch the floor of the dance studio, I quietly cried with gratitude.  The time I did a quick math calculation in my head I smiled to realize the gray matter hadn’t gone away, it merely had been muffled under a blanket. There have been many small mile markers, with still more to pass.

Yet, what I am now still saddened by and still working on is the realization that while I was gone to battle for two years, life continued on.  And life, as we all know, is about change.  I “came back” and so much had changed.  My dance troupe is gone.  People have moved, moved on, or taken on new hobbies.  Dear ones have moved on.    Life has gone on and done so without me.

I feel like I am sitting on the rim of that canyon, catching my breath thinking “what just happened?” and “Hello? Where did everyone go?”

I guess I just have to start walking and find out.

 

Advertisements

Act One

????????????????????????????????????????The first day of chemo was the only relaxing day I’d had in a month.  I got to sit in a big recliner with my big soft blanket, and free Wi-Fi for 7 hours in a quiet peaceful atmosphere.  If I had been tired, that would have been an ideal spot for a nap.  As it was, I was just tired of the harried rush that life had become.

All went well with the infusion; I had no immediate reactions, and went home intensely focused on “how was I feeling.” And again with the injection of neulasta the next day; there was no real reaction to it. When I got back to work the following morning I remember feeling like “Wow, I can handle this.”

It was 2 weeks before Christmas and I finally had time to start the upcoming holiday season.

I made plans. And my body laughed.

That night, day 2 after chemo, the aches and pains started. Calling it similar to an achy flu is rather inadequate for my experience. Although I have to admit that my experience with the flu is thankfully minimal anyway.   This was like a pin-ball machine going off on the inner core of my body. My hip would get a zing of pain that made me catch my breath, and then suddenly my thigh or a rib would get the zinger. I couldn’t rub this away like you do when you walk into the dishwasher door that’s left open (c’mon, we’ve all done that right?!).   Lying under my electric blanket didn’t ease the aches either, but it did soothe the rest of me. Day 3 to 7 was miserable, but I can’t be sure it was chemo related. Several other people I know had come down with a stomach bug and I am not sure if that is what I had or if it was chemo reaction.

As the stomach issues subsided, my sense of taste and smell whacked out. For many days my mouth felt full of acid. Eating anything acidic like spaghetti sauce was amplified and awful. Something spicy such as salsa was like having a pin cushion in my mouth. Even gingerbread was too sharp. The hardest part of this was not being able to taste my cup of tea in the morning. If you are a tea or coffee drinker, you know the headache you’ll get if you don’t get your morning cuppa, it’s not nice. So I made my tea, and yuk – it wasn’t acidic but it wasn’t the enjoyable sweetness I was expecting. I drank it anyway of course, and hoped that the taste issue would pass as quickly as the other discomforts.

The sense of smell though, that was a weird and unexpected issue for me. As I drove home from work on day 9 after chemo I thought I smelled burning plastic inside my car. I got out and it sure seemed to be coming from the engine. I was quite concerned so I had my son check it out, and he found there was no odd smell and certainly nothing on fire. Other things smelled wrong too: my hair smelled funny to me, one pair of boots in particular did too. I didn’t ask my son to smell my boots; at this point I just accepted that my olfactory settings were off!

What is interesting to me is as I got over this stomach and senses issue; I swear I could feel the path the chemo drugs were taking in my body. Specifically The lymph node where the cancer was found started to twinge a good bit, and for the first time, on the inside, I could feel the tumor in the breast. In my mind, I saw this as my weapons reaching their targets and doing their job. This is when I really began to feel like I was taking the lead.

And this leads me to the next indignity on this adventure – acne. Well, it isn’t really acne, but my neck and face started breaking out as all these drugs were being processed and removed from my system. My neck muscles began to hurt, and then there were a few pimples just along my chin. Within a day more and more pimples, beginning along the chin then cheeks, then forehead. These were sore and forceful, and itchy. A couple of them just started to bleed on their own. It was (and still is) really quite disgusting. If only it was time for Halloween and the Zombie Crawl, I would fit right in! Thank goodness for my age and solid self-esteem; and okay – heavy doses of makeup! – that got me through this latest affront.

This is all unfamiliar and strange territory for me; and in an odd way it is also interesting. Interesting, and quite frankly, fascinating. The body is an amazing system in how it handles the chemo drugs, processes them, and subsequently recovers.   It’s an amazing system that is going to kill a pretty dangerous cancer.

Turbulence

My appointment was bright and early on a Wednesday morning for my first chemo treatment. I watched the warm before the storm blow through tempestuous skies, tumbleweeds flying every which way.

As I sat in the waiting room, as the minutes passed by, thoughts I had been pushing away started swirling in my head (as unwanted thoughts are wont to do.) “After a lifetime of trying to live healthy and being careful of what I put in to my body I am now going to willingly allow poison to be pumped into me?”  “How can this be right?”  “I work so consistently to take care of my health, and now I am going to negate all that with poison?”

I wallowed in this sad confusion, getting myself more and more worked up for several minutes.  I was nearly in tears when my more ‘logical and in control’ part of my brain took control and said   STOP THIS.

STOP THIS NOW.

I remembered how my son would hit the button on his Nintendo system and say “Do Over” when he didn’t like how a game was going. I seriously did not like the way I had started this day, and sure wanted a “do over” myself. Without thinking, I found myself standing up, then walking out the door. Leaving everything: purse, blanket, notebook, phone; I just walked to the parking lot right outside. I looked to the heavens and in the midst of the wind I shouted “DO OVER!”   I stomped my feet and glared at the pavement and with each stomp I shouted,

THIS is NOT the way it goes.

THIS is NOT how it’s going to begin.

THIS is NOT the way I do things.

I paused, I stood looking at the door, I swear the wind stopped for a moment.

Out loud I said, “I need help. I need this medicine. I need this ammunition. I’m going to battle and this is what I need to attack with. I have to give my body the tools it needs. I need this. Give me the power to attack. I need this.”

I pulled my shoulders back, snapped my head up, and took a deep breath. A raindrop fell on my cheek as I marched back inside.

I gathered all my belongs, and within a few minutes was called for my appointment. I made a point to look at each person working with me, taking my vitals, showing me to the infusion area, and the RN hooking me all up to everything. This was my team, I was heading into a battle and I was depending on them to give me everything I needed for this battle. They did their part and now I was ready to do mine.

Here we go …

I’m standing on the precipice about to step on to the stage for the dance of my life, and I know I am not dancing alone. How cliché, I know, but so true.

The intro of tests, tests and more tests is done.

The waltz of friends and family has cleared the stage.

Now I am here. In the quiet spotlight I stand, warm with love and confidence.

With a heavenly glance I feel a connection and I ask, I pray, “Dance with me.”

I know this song, I know these steps, I know I can do this; still I ask in my heart – please, dance with me.

The count begins: 5, 6, 7, 8 ….

and Step,  and ONE.

It’s me.

…. Let’s Dance.