Some things I don’t want to put behind me.


This week I’m meeting up with some former colleagues.  It has been two years since I worked with them.  It has been two years since I worked at all.  In January 2011 I was just starting out on what would be a life changing journey.  In January 2011  a large lump was detected in my breast.

For the next year and a half I let cancer take over my identity.   I became a cancer patient first and foremost, everything else was a far second.  I was synonymous with my illness and my world spun around that defining fact.

I don’t talk much about my breast cancer  any more. It is still on my mind,  several  times a day in fact, but I don’t usually voice my thoughts.   It may or may not come back.   I feel superstitious. If I celebrate that the cancer is gone, I might be tempting fate.  Consequently I don’t make any  sweeping statements like “it’s all behind me now”.

That being said, I think I should mark this anniversary and record my more poignant memories from 2011.   It was not all a nightmare.  My cancer brought with it some surprising gifts: closer friendships, a new ease when expressing my feelings of love, an appreciation for things that I had taken for granted and a kick-start on some self actualization to live the life I want to live.

Without further ado, here is my list of eleven cancer related things I don’t want to ever forget.

# 11 –   I don’t want to forget the day I lost my hair.  I was anxious and expecting it to happen. In preparation I had my hairdresser cut my hair short.   I was up at my cottage.  It was a very windy overcast day.  No one was around.  I sat outside on the porch steps and I ran my fingers through my hair.  It was coming out 15 – 20 strands at a time.  I gathered a handful and held it up to the wind.   A gust grabbed it.   I pulled another fist-full and sacrified it to the air.    Gone.  Over and over I plucked and gathered the loose strands.   It only took a few minutes.   My scalp was bare.  All evidence was gone to the wind. Dispersed.   Eventually I loss my eyelashes, eyebrows, hair inside my nose, and all my body hair.   I was like a giant seal.  Slick and smooth everywhere.

CHEMO HEAD

# 10 –  I don’t want to forget how open and honest my  surgeon was.   She patiently  educated me on some tough subjects while I was in a state of shock.  Nothing was sugar-coated.  I later learned that not all doctors are so forthcoming.  One of my key oncologist didn’t bother to mention the risks or explain what tests results meant.  That doctor was happy to rush you through.  If you didn’t know the right questions to ask…. you leave in the dark.

# 9 –  I don’t want to forget my chemotherapy regiment.          I had six cycles of chemo given on a single day, every 21 days.  Days 2 to 21 were rest and recovery days.  On the morning before my first chemo session I had a port inserted under my skin in my chest.  The nurses would “plug” the IV into the port and the drugs quickly diluted into my bloodstream.

For the first three cycles I received three drugs (Fluorouracil, Epirubicin, Cychophosphamide).  For the next three cycles I received the drug Docetaxel.

Some of the chemo drugs came in a drip bag with IV and others were pushed through a syringe into the IV.  I recall that the Epirubicin  looked like pink lemonade and came in two particularly huge syringes.

syringe of chemo

#8  – I don’t want to forget the ice packs.   One of my chemo drugs was known to cause damage to your nails and create numbness  in your fingers, feet  and toes.  During chemo treatment the nurses gave me ice packs to hold and rest on my toes.   Apparently this would reduce the circulation of the drug to these extremities and minimize the damage.   It didn’t work too well in my case.  In spite of the ice packs I lost feeling in my fingers, the bottom of my feet and toes.  My nails continue to be a problem.

# 7 –  I don’t want to forget all of the chemo side effects.    I got through it. At times I worried that the side effects might kill me.  With each cycle the drugs accumulated in my system and the side effects grew.   There were mouth sores, nausea and/vomiting  BTW – blood in your vomit looks like coffee grinds.  At times I had muscle pain and a horribly bitter metallic taste in my mouth. I had a runny nose and a bad chronic cough for several months. I don’t want to forget that  Gravol rectal suppositories are really uncomfortable – enough said. I don’t want to forget that when I had the cough and the troublesome diarrhea at the same time – well that’s just a nasty mess – enough said.

# 6  – The painted ceiling panel in the radiation treatment room.   For twenty-five consecutive days of radiation treatment I lay on my back in a deserted treatment room, being told not to move a muscle while the orange radiation beam searched out its path.  Over my head the ceiling tile had been painted a bright underwater scene. I remember three colourful fish, with bubbles, and aquatic plants.    Over twenty-five days I memorize every detail of that painting.

It looked something like this.                  .ceiling tile at Odette Cancer Centre

# 5 –  I don’t want to forget my frustration and anxiety over the hospital parking.  Parking was in short supply.   I bought a special pass and was assigned one particular lot to use.  They charged me $675.00 for parking in 2011. There were too many cars and not enough spots.   I would  have to sit in the full lot and wait for someone to leave their spot.  Sometimes five or six  cars would be in queue waiting.  It would get confusing to remember who was next.  Tempers would flare as people worried about missing their appointments.    I dreaded the whole thing.

# 4 –  I don’t want to forget the wonderful hospital staff.     They really make the difference between going through the motions and having a good day. The chemo nurses were amazing.  They were so smart and competent and crazy busy.

I recall one exuberant receptionist in the radiation department.  She greeted me everyday like I was her besty.   She reminded me of the actress Sherri Shepherd.  She wore a large wig and had a personality to match.

Sherri Sheppard   “How are you doing today!”

# 3  – I don’t want to forget the ladies at the Herceptin Club.   I continued to receive the chemo drug Herceptin for one full year.  Every 21 days I returned to the hospital to have it infused into my bloodstream via an IV into my port.    There were other breast cancer patients coming in at the same time for their Herceptin.   After a while their faces became familiar.   It felt like a club.  They were nice ladies and we shared a few laughs while waiting for our  IV drip bags to empty out.

# 2 –  I don’t want to forget the army of  well wishers.  Co-workers, neighbours and friends all stepped up and showed their concern.  I was showered by bouquets and greeting cards.   Everyone was so kind  and generous.  I received calligraphy pens, slippers, scarves,  books, baskets of chocolate; even a hand knitted shawl by a church group.  “Be well…Be warm…Be loved..Be comforted..”

# 1  –  I don’t want to again lose my mindset about my own mortality.  There was a time, before I was even diagnosed with cancer when I would not think about death.  I would not allow my mind to even imagine dying.    My illness forced me to accept that I am going to die.   I don’t know when. It may happen soon.  It may happen before I am ready.

My illness gave me time to think.  I understand now that in spite of an army of love supporting me,  I will take the final journey alone.  It is not a bad thing.  It is natural.  It is life.

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About westlakemusings

In 2013 my husband and I retired. We bought an old pre-confederation house out in the country. This blog is about our new world in the country as we explore all of life's possibilities.
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6 Responses to Some things I don’t want to put behind me.

  1. Sandi Nicholls says:

    Words fail me Diane. Your journey and the path that you have struck, humbles me.

  2. You’ve had wonderful supports, by the sound of it. I worked at the local cancer clinic and hospital for a time- the parking is nothing less than tragic, especially for patients.

    • Yet, but all the parking revenue goes back into the hospital where it is neededso badly. I guess I only feel upset for those who can’t afford the parking and struggle with other forms of transportation, which are not as convenient

      ________________________________

  3. Thanks for sharing all of this, Diane. It seems patently unfair that in the middle of fighting for your life, you should have had to deal with a ridiculous nuisance like parking. It’s interesting that you have to work to hold on to some memories, to that sense of mortality. It seems like human nature that no matter what epiphanies we’ve undergone, we tend to forget.

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