Well, here we are. December 31. End of this very long year. And my final lesson is one that’s been repeated a lot in different ways. We don’t get unlimited time. Not during the day, not during the year, not during this life. It’s something we all know, logically, but cancer has a way of making it personal and emotional.
I’m a doer and a helper. I need to feel like I’m contributing towards something meaningful. I like to be creative. I like to talk and research and write and teach. I also like to dress up. And I’ve done very little of any of these things this year. Sure, the cancer made it somewhat hard. But if I’m honest about it, I didn’t do a lot of it the year before either. I’m working on it though, and I plan to continue because it’s not just about doing what make me happy, it’s focusing on what gives me purpose.
I’ve written this blog daily this year because I needed to be intentional on finding gratitude during the difficult days. And I’m so thankful I did. It was important for me to find the sometimes small moments that got me out of my head on the hard days. And looking back, I had a lot to be thankful for. So many friends and family members supporting me. Such great medical care. A job that allowed me to be flexible with location and time. A husband who really took care of me. Pups that made me laugh. Cancer treatments that cured me. And in the middle of all that, I gained a son-in-law. I’m grateful.
I’m going to talk about my hair. I know, I know, not again. But hear me out because this is my next lesson.
P.C. (Pre-cancer) my hair was thick, wavy, and pretty easy to style whether it was short or long. I kept it long, mostly, I would change the color periodically without doing much damage. I could curl it quickly and the curls would hold. I was often stopped by complete strangers who commented on how much they liked my hair.
Once my hair began coming back after chemo, I’ve been shocked to see how it’s growing. I’ve pointed out before the crazy amounts of cowlicks I have. And it seems to be growing in all different directions. Some forward, some straight down. Some areas are kinda flat. The back has curl.
I don’t believe chemo completely changed my hair. What I believe is that I never knew the craziness that was going on underneath. Who would have thought that all these cowlicks worked to make my hair full in just the right spots? Or that the variety of directions helped it lay right or gave it the waviness that I took for granted. If I didn’t know what my hair normally looked like, I’d be worried about this mess of new growth. How can this possibly end up looking good?
And isn’t that a great metaphor for life in general? How often does it seem like everything is going wrong and only later do we see that what appeared to be mistakes were the steps getting us to where we needed to be. Sometimes what we worry are problems are just things working in ways we couldn’t imagine. So maybe the lesson is to be patient. Or have faith. Or keep holding on and not freak out at every setback. While losing my hair was a big deal, and I’m still getting used to its current state, I’m actually thankful I got this peek underneath. This lesson is one I really needed to be reminded of.
Yay! Patrick made it home safely. I’m thankful his trip went well and I’m happy to have him back. So are the pups. They were a bit mopey this evening, probably because I wasn’t in the best of moods today, so they were pretty excited to see him show up. He brought Christmas presents from his parents, so it now looks like Santa visited here already. And he brought me this cute t-shirt from Buc-ee’s, which is a Southern convenient store chain. Happy holidays!
Today I also saw my oncologist and had my first hormone shot designed to shut down my ovaries, so I found myself back in the infusion center.
My doctor was right—the needle was big. Apparently the hormone is a seed that is the size of a grain of rice, so the needle needed to be big enough for that. The nurse kept telling me not to look at it. The shot was in my stomach and I got two shots of lidocaine ahead of time, so I didn’t really feel it anyway. I was more freaked out by the long list of side effects they are required to go over ahead of time. At any rate, it’s over. I seem to be ok so far. And I’ll be doing this every three months for the next couple of years. I’m thankful this follow up went well.
I saw my plastic surgeon again today and had another fill in my spacers. Each side got one of these syringes of saline. I’m starting to feel some uncomfortable twinges from my skin stretching, although my doctor assures me it shouldn’t cause stretch marks. Or pull apart my “seams” aka stitches. I’ve noticed the last couple of times that I could feel the pinch from the needle on my right side. Maybe my nerves are coming back. That would nice. On the left side, I still only feel pressure, which is no surprise since my whole armpit and a portion of my arm is still numb.
Because of the upcoming holidays, I won’t have another fill for a few weeks, which is fine. It will give my skin a chance to adjust and hopefully relax a bit. I’m still thankful to be moving along and tolerating this stretching well.
I’m also thankful that Patrick made it safely to Texas yesterday. He got up and left at 2 am since it was a 16-hr drive. It was supposed to be something of a surprise, so I didn’t mention it. He’s visiting his family and will drive back in a day or two. I’m sorry not to be able to visit his family, but I’ve enjoyed having all my tv shows on and complete access to the kitchen. The pups and I have been doing Christmas stuff 24/7 here. Now my countdown will be how many hours before he’s back.
I saw my plastic surgeon today. He says the way radiation shrank my skin means we will have to overfill my left breast to get it to match closer to the right. Apparently this will require overfill, removal, then more fill so the skin can stretch and relax. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
We didn’t talk timeline this time, but we did start the fills today. He was just going to fill the left side but I asked to add some to the right as well. I was hoping it would help alleviate the uncomfortable creasing that happens when the spacer folds on itself. Since it’s now more full, it does feel better. The downside is that it’s more obvious that my breasts are uneven. Thank goodness it’s sweater weather, so it’s easy to hide.
I go next week for another fill. If it goes well, my doctor said we’ll continue weekly. I’m hoping it might mean my surgery can happen sooner, but I’m not getting my hopes up. He did mention again that he will need to do liposuction on my stomach to fill in spots during my surgery. I’m not even offended that his statement meant I had stomach fat because, yay! He’s going to remove it! Bonus. I may need to rethink the size breasts I want because I have fat elsewhere he could use, too.
I kid, of course. I just want to look proportional when all this is done. And I’m thankful to have gotten this next part started today.
It’s been a month since my radiation treatments ended, and I had a follow up with my radiation oncologist today. He says my skin is making a great recovery although the pink/tanned color may last a year. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but let’s be honest, a triangular shaped tan across my chest isn’t what ruining my sexy look. Ha.
Frankly, I’m just thrilled that it’s healing well and the pain is gone. I was talking to my mom today about how quickly time seems to be going now. While in the middle of my treatments, the days seemed SO LONG. Now that I’m feeling better, time flies. I know that’s typical. And it’s a great reminder that things don’t last forever. Sometimes good things end, but more importantly, so does the bad. I’m thankful every day I made it through the long days.
It’s my birthday! It’s also one year since I had the biopsy that revealed my cancer. We hear all the time how life can change in an instant but it’s hard to grasp it until it actually happens to you. But here I am, less than a month after my last radiation treatment, celebrating my birthday again post cancer. Everything went sideways for a while, but now it’s back on track. A lot of people celebrate a second birthday when they’re cancer-free. Lucky for me I can celebrate it on the same day.
And today I got to celebrate by first having Christmas morning with Brianna and Noah. They opened the presents we got them and I opened birthday presents. Then we went to the apple orchard and an antique store and lunch before hanging out at home. Bri and Noah even decorated my outside chalkboard for me. It was a good day. I’m lucky and grateful.
I love my friends. They always find a way to make me smile and I’m so thankful for that. What a sweet surprise on a day filled with cleaning and putting away the Halloween decor.
Have I mentioned I’m done with radiation? Still super happy about it. Even more happy because my skin is on fire—and not in the good way. I can’t imagine having more treatments now. And I can understand why major burn victims may need to be put in an induced coma. The pain from my localized area is enough to exhaust me. Why does this have to be under my arm where it rubs constantly? Why?
I think I did a bit too much today with my arms. This area felt like it was extra swollen, so I spent the evening on the sofa, reading a new book. But I’m glad I got things put away and the garage cleaned while the weather was warm. And I lasted a bit longer than 4 hours before I needed ibuprofen again. Maybe that’s a good sign.
I’m done!! I had my last radiation treatment today! This was me and Patrick.
I brought a box of small cupcakes for the staff and they gave me a “diploma” which was The Ten Commandments of Cancer Surviorship and a bag of items with special meanings.
On my way out I got a hug from the nurse who worked with me the most and even one from my doctor. When I got to my car, this song was on the radio. I couldn’t clap along since I was driving, but I absolutely was happy.
Finally, I got this delivery from my mom, with such a sweet message it made me cry.
I’m so thankful for this day that seemed so long in coming. I’m done!!
This is my last week of radiation. Woohoo! It’s crazy how quickly my skin damage has increased.
This is the worst spot under my arm which has just started to peel. My doctor today said that he expects all of my skin to peel eventually. He offered to write a prescription for pain medicine since it’s gotten pretty painful, as you can imagine. However, I don’t do well with those, so I opted to keep using ibuprofen. I’m hoping that continues to help.
The thing no one really tells you about radiation is how much it can tighten the muscles in the area. A lot of my pain is also from the tightness; it’s almost as if my ribs are bruised. I think part of it is that I don’t ever feel relaxed and that tension in my body doesn’t help. So I keep trying to stretch my chest and shoulder muscles regularly. I’m also getting sharp pains regularly along the side that I’m assuming is the surgery nerve damage I was warned about. I’m only guessing (because I forgot to ask my doctor today) that it may be more noticeable from the muscle tightening.
It probably goes without saying that I’m so thankful that this is my final week. Thursday is my last day. And the nurse today said there’s a good chance that without the bolus accentuating the radiation, my skin may not get much worse these last few days. Three more days. I can do it. I can.