Saturday, September 25, 2010

hair raising

I have a love/hate relationship with my wig. Okay, maybe that statement is a bit strong. Let’s just say it reminds me of having a haircut that you’re not completely sure of…you know, it’s not the worst style you’ve ever had but you’re not all that crazy about it either.

There are a few things I like about the wig. For one thing it doesn’t seem to look like a wig, or at least that’s what everyone says whenever I reveal the truth. People seem to be genuinely shocked that it’s not my real hair. And a wig is very easy to maintain – just put it on, straighten it out and go. It’s also more comfortable than I thought it would be and always feels secure…no sense of it slipping or blowing off.

What I don’t like about the wig is the shape, or cut if you will…there’s something a bit off about it. Maybe too full on top? Too thin on the bottom? Not sure. It’s not the worst style I’ve ever worn, but if my hairdresser had done it, next time I’d tell him to leave it fuller on the bottom and not so poufy on top.

Gosh, I miss my hairdresser.

Which brings me to my own hair…at first it took a long time to even start coming back in…like a scary long time. And then when I finally began to see faint evidence of growth it was only on the sides and the back. As each week passed I became more and more alarmed. I mean, I looked like a balding man, as if I had a receding hairline. Of course it didn’t help that little Daniel kept saying I looked “just like Daddy”…(I will SO remember that, Kid!)

My concern was not just paranoia. Unfortunately there is a small risk of permanent hair loss with one of the chemo drugs I took, Taxotere. (Let it be known tho that while the other common choice, Taxol, doesn’t have the same risk regarding hair loss, it may instead have a slightly higher rate of causing neuropathy.)

Anyway…just as I was about to totally freak out, thankfully the front and middle finally began to lightly fill in.

However, my hair is a completely different color! It is very dark, sort of an ashy brown. From what I’ve heard it often grows back darker on those with lighter hued locks. After about a year or so the dark color starts to fade out and the original color usually returns, although sometimes that doesn’t happen. A number of women will also end up with very different hair texture after chemo…again, sometimes it eventually returns to its original state, sometimes not. Typically those formerly with straight hair will have curlier hair after, not as often the other way around. Since my hair was naturally somewhere in between, sort of wavy, who knows how this will all turn out? It’s hard to tell anything much when it’s barely an inch long.

For now I’m attempting to just go with it, to varying degrees of success depending on my mental state at any given moment. I’m trying to be patient and just take it as it comes – not like I really have much choice in the matter anyway. On the bright side I may use this as an opportunity to try hair colors and styles I never would have dreamed of experimenting with before. So in the end I guess you could say this is sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity…at least all things considered it had certainly better be once in a lifetime!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Photo finish

Last November I blogged about what my mom wore to chemotherapy when she had breast cancer a couple years ago. I decided that when I went for my own treatment, rather than dress strictly for comfort alone, I would also try to put together and wear outfits that made me feel good about the way I looked, sort of as an act of empowerment. I also planned to take pix throughout.

But I didn’t take pictures.

Mind you, I actually did manage to dress pretty cute for every single infusion. In fact, chemo-day was practically the only time I donned real clothes, the only time I wore my wig or tried to put on any make-up. Most of the rest of the time I spent in baggy sweats, bald, no make-up, laying around and trying not to completely cave in.

On chemo-days, though, I made the monumental effort to look better, and it did make me feel stronger. But whenever I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I was downright unrecognizable, though to someone who didn’t already know me, well, they might never have guessed I was in the midst of cancer treatment. Dear Michael used to lovingly joke I had better start looking worse otherwise people wouldn’t believe I was sick.

But all the same, I never felt like posting a picture.

I had wanted to take photographs during treatment as a sort of visual record of the experience, something tangible to illustrate the evolution I’d inevitably be going thru. See, when I was obese I never had any pictures taken. For almost ten years of my life there’s scarcely any evidence of me existing. I’m not there in the holiday photos…barely any wedding pix, certainly no candid vacation albums. So many memories are just in my head without anything to show or share. I virtually edited myself right out of my own life. And once I lost the weight I realized what a shame that was, such a waste…how sad. I vowed I would never do that again.

But when reality hit and the chemo side-effects took their inevitable toll the thought of seeing all that laid out in living color, let alone plastered in the blogosphere, became much too painful -- I completely changed my mind. In light of what was going on it just didn’t seem important. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to memorialize any of that in pictures for posterity.

After treatment ended and the summer months wore on I still didn't want any photos, for here or anywhere else. Understandable, I’d been thru a lot…but…would I ever? I secretly mourned the possibility that I might not. That would feel like yet another loss to cancer amongst so many others.

But then, very slowly, I started to feel a little better, and subsequently my appearance in the mirror reflected that back to me. Amazingly even as the whole pulmonary nodule episode unfolded and wracked me with fear to my core…despite even that, bit by bit I started to vaguely recognize myself.

Day by day I look more and more like me – and I’ve decided whether it looks like the same me as before is totally beside the point at the moment. What really matters is I am alive…I’m living my life and getting well again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

And then, she went shopping...

Hey, a girl still has to get dressed, right? Besides, retail therapy is practically a required prescription under certain circumstances. To say I’m entitled is putting it a bit mildly.

It’s not like I haven’t shopped since my cancer diagnosis of course…in fact I even had to buy a few essential things right in the midst of chemo because I gained 22 lbs and nothing fit. But that’s definitely not the same thing as wanting to shop for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Actually, even without weight fluctuations everything has fit differently since the surgery last summer. One year later and my body is still a little new to me, I'm still experimenting, finding out what works and what doesn't.

On the downside my reconstructed breast is about a full cup size larger than its mate, which now requires extra padding. However, on the much brighter side, I no longer have quite my former girth ‘round the middle which makes a big impact in how clothes look on me. As some may recall, thanks to a 130 lb weight loss and two c-section babies, I had been living with (and de-emphasizing) quite the substantial pannus. That's all gone now, somewhat miraculously put to good use via my reconstruction.

(Okay, I'll just say it again, really, who knew that could ever have come in handy for anything???)

Meanwhile I’ve slowly managed to lose about 15 of those 22 chemo pounds so far and while most of my old clothes do now fit me once again, somehow they aren’t all as flattering on this new shape.

Anyway, all this is leading up to the fact that I hit the mall and hit it hard, lol. Got myself a couple pencil skirts, tried to find new jeans (unsuccessfully) and found several simple but versatile tops – plus a really nice Jones New York basic black dress at Lord & Taylor on sale for only $48!

Most importantly – it was fun!

Admittedly I was apprehensive at first….afraid my focus would be on all the body issues created by cancer & reconstruction. But you know what? With each piece I tried on for every new concern there was an old one that didn’t seem quite so prominent anymore. Point being that no matter what body you are in, no matter what’s happened to it, you can learn to work with it and enhance all the remaining positives. And believe you me, if I’ve learned one thing in my life it is that there are always positives.

Life, and apparently shopping, goes on :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Now what???

Today is my 47th birthday. We’re not doing anything particularly special, oh, they’ll be cake and a nice meal, some presents from Michael & the kids. But I didn’t want a big tadoo, just a regular birthday like I’ve always had.

That might sound strange, I mean, shouldn’t I be dancing in the streets since pretty much dodging the mother of all bullets, what with no lung metastasis?

Incidentally, I spoke to my oncologist last night (she calls me at home pretty often, isn’t that nice?)…anyway, the final report came in from the “lung biopsy that wasn’t”. According to the CT scan all the pulmonary nodules seem to have essentially resolved themselves with the exception of one – there’s no evidence of any of the rest. Hard to believe, isn’t it? The lone hold out got 1cm larger than it was from a prior scan, but that could be explained by how CT imaging is sort of sliced. Imagine an orange, if you sliced it towards the end it would appear smaller in circumference than if you sliced it in the middle. So this last nodule might even have gotten smaller and it just didn’t appear that way.

The plan is to re-scan in a few months. I asked her if it was okay to wait until after the winter holidays and she gave me a resounding yes. She said we can be VERY confident it’s not a fast growing metastasis, and pretty darn confident it’s not any kind of metastasis at all…nor is it likely to be a new primary cancer either. All things considered, I’m moving on and not worrying about this anymore.

So why am I not celebrating my ass off?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Perhaps there are phases you inevitably pass thru when you have cancer, and I've sort of suffered from arrested development, if you will. The way I presently see it there's four phases:

1. The discovery and diagnosis stage, when you are finding out what you have and how to treat it, if it’s spread and what your prognosis might be. It’s a crash course in your own particular cancer situation and frought with the kind of decisions that no earthly person should ever have to make.

2. Then there’s the treatment phase itself…surgery, chemo, radiation, hormonal and other ongoing therapies. For some of us, all or part of the treatment may continue for many years, but chances are the intensive remedies like surgery and chemo will be relatively short-lived, in the grand scheme of things.

3. After all of that comes the healing stage where you go thru a physical recovery from your treatment. You may need to adjust to a drastically changed body, severe side effects from medications will gradually diminish, wounds will heal. Permanent damage will be assessed and you will learn to manage various conditions and any ongoing medications.

4. Finally you enter what is hopefully the last phase of your voyage – continuing on with your life in the wake of having had cancer. Some of us have to do that part while knowingly living with cancer, some of us get to do it “cancer-free” – hopefully for a long, long time. This is when you begin to work on recovering from the emotional wounds, maybe the most difficult recuperation process of them all.

For the average woman with breast cancer it takes about 9 or 10 months from discovery to reach that 4th phase. Clearly with all the obstacles thrown in my path my journey has been quite a bit longer. It’s been nearly 18mos now since discovering the lumps in my breast. So even tho technically my last treatment was at the end of April, I’ve been stuck, left in a holding pattern while waiting to find out whether or not the cancer had already spread. Now that pause button has been released and it’s time to fully move into the fourth phase.

Physically I’m left with the aforementioned pulmonary nodule, major scars, vast areas of numbness, mild lymphedema, only a little hair and some extra pounds (tho less since I’ve lost a bit). Menopause has been tolerable so far, but I am experiencing some body aches and crankiness from my estrogen deficit. Fatigue is lifting, but still there.

Emotionally? I don’t even know where to start, thus the title of this post and why I’m not exactly partying. I think it is all hitting me full force now…OMG, I had cancer?!?! I have radically changed. I will never be the same. There’s nothing left to distract me from facing this head on anymore….nothing to learn, no treatment decisions, no physical pain, no wounds left to heal, save for the giant gaping one in my psyche.

So it seems I am now, finally, a breast cancer survivor. On October 1st, the first day of breast cancer awareness month, it will be 18 months exactly since I sat down to nurse my toddler son, and with my breast in hand found the lump that would destroy my life as I knew it, leaving me standing where I am now….pretty beat up, sort of stunned, more than a little lost, and very, very much alive.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Biopsy update!

Hee-hee, they couldn't do the biopsy -- that one big nodule was SMALLER, alot lung biopsy for me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


I think there's still some pulmonary nodules sprinkled around in there (I was pretty out of it yesterday, used my Ativan quite liberally) and I'm sure there will be some scan comparison, yada yada (why yes, I did just "yada-yada" CAT scans) but at this point it looks like the next course of action will be to just wait a while and scan again.

However, ringing in my ears over and over is what the pulmonologist said, "Cancer doesn't shrink all by itself" -- meaning as of right now this is VERY doubtfully cancer!!!!!!!!


Don your party hats girls (and boys) -- let's have a virtual partay. I'll bring the wine and chocolate ;)

You know, I really do wish I could have a real party and invite all you lovely bloggy friends....seeing all your well wishes made me smile, made me cry, and made me feel so much less alone. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart (or should I say from the bottom of my as of now cancer-free lungs!!!!!)

I've got an appointment but wanted to post this ASAP.

Have a wonderful day....I know I will :)