Until now I’ve had no motivation to write. I’m stiff with months of being sedentary. Since my final infusion on October 5th my eyes continue to weep making it sometimes difficult to see through their goop. Most evenings of late I break out in a torso rash like clockwork between 5:30 and 6:30. I have been feeling weak, fat, and out of shape. I’m sick of using Benadryl and Advil to get through the rough parts of each day or night and glad I am beginning to be able to power through these cycles without. Seeing all the glossy breast cancer brochures with photos of women looking content and peaceful with stylish head wear in limber yoga poses has only made me feel alienated.
I’ve had no kick to get on my old fitness routine…until NOW. Recovery is an amazing thing. It comes with trust.
I have had lots of surgery and lots of anesthesia over the past ten years. Something I always forget to trust at this stage of recovery is that I never remember what it is like to feel better until I feel better. Yes, I’ve been through this stage many times yet I forget to remember. I’ve even written this down in more than one journal, yet each time I think “this time” it will be different. When I finally do feel better I realize not only how bad and out of it I’d been feeling, but I also remember that it was never a lack of motivation at all.
I had been in recovery mode.
The problem is that recovery mode for me has always been complicated with the baggage of life-long self-doubt and second guessing; two things to which I’ve alluded many times in this blog that on the positive side have provided the horsewhip of drive to ride the rides I do, but it also rids my psyche of any nurturing bit of reality at the time it is most needed.
If only my physical, intellectual, and emotional selves were one. At my lowest times throughout this journey, my impatience would have replaced with peace. My weeks of discomfort would have been soothed by my inner best friend reminding me that recovery has it’s own schedule. Thankfully all of my “outer” family and friends were there to remind me not to rush back too quickly. After too many false starts and setbacks, I finally started to listen, obey their advice, and ignore my own impulse.
Since July 13th of this year (THAT’S TWO DAYS SHORT OF ONLY FOUR MONTHS AGO) I had my annual mammogram, a followup mammogram, a couple of ultrasounds, a biopsy, two MRIs with contrast injections, four chemotherapy infusions, a couple of trips to the local urgent care doc, no less than eight trips to Burbank including an emergency trip to the ER for a neutropenic fever, pain relievers, steroids, antibiotics and the antihistamines to soothe the allergic reactions I had to two. I’ve missed no less than seven weeks of work.
None of this was pretty except for the amazing support I’ve received from friends, work, and family. I hope it’s clear that in these posts I’ve wanted to share from a positive place, from the bright side of a glass half full. Sometimes this writing feels self-serving when I know others have had it much worse, so I preface this with an apology for sharing this other half, concerned that it comes across like self-pity: Never have I known such suffering. Glancing back through my journal from these weeks I see the words, “unrelenting” and “miserable.” After my third infusion which was especially difficult due to a snafu with my insurance that resulted in my not getting my Neulasta OnPro injection I realized I was wrong about my notion that if I could ride a double century I could get through chemo. It was then that I realized that if I could get through chemo, my next double would be a cakewalk.
There were two significant times when I had reached a depth of suffering I had never known (not even at that dark, 9:00 p.m. Mile-180 of the Hemet Double Century, having no clue what my body was going to do with each subsequent pedal stroke). Intellectually knowing that the unrelenting suffering would pass was close to impossible. During one episode, I was curled up in a heap, my head resting on the backrest of the couch and I heard my own words repeat in a whisper: “Let this change my life…let this change my life.” I found myself telling my critical self that she was no longer needed in any aspect of my being. As that stupor passed through me I became aware that it was this and other moments of my treatment that I did not want to forget.
On October 30th I had a lumpectomy with breast reconstruction surgery. Two lymph nodes from my right arm were also removed. It was supposed to be outpatient surgery but because of complications of a ruptured blood vessel I was rushed back into surgery and then admitted for an overnight hospital stay. I think it more apt to say my WBF and I were admitted because he got no sleep that night on the couch in my room that was about a foot shorter than his gorgeous tall frame and he had to take an extra unplanned day off from work. (Last year his perfect attendance and work ethic earned him Driver of the Year and an extra week all-expenses-paid vacation. He is not one to miss work.) I was sent home with two drainage tubes that I had to empty and measure twice a day for the next eight days. I kept each bottle pinned to my shirt, slept on my back sitting up, and the only water that hit my body that week was from a soaked wash cloth.
The surgery has left me with a new, unfamiliar body. Because of the size and location of my tumor (“six o’clock”) removal without plastic surgery to reshape my right breast would have left me deformed in a way that would have made future mammograms difficult. And without removing some tissue from my unaffected breast I would have been left lopsided.
At my eight-day post surgery followup last week (November 5, 2018) I asked my surgeon when I could start riding my bike. This is how the conversation went:
“When can I start riding my bike?”
“Let me take a look at you in one month and I will let you know. You can walk.”
“Can I run?
“Can I walk ten miles?”
“Can I go to the gym?”
“Can I hang laundry on the clothesline?”
“Yes, but you are not allowed to carry the laundry basket out to the clothesline.”
Having been so immersed in the ebb and flow, ups and downs; the pain and relief, it had been easy to forget to focus on what is most important: the outcome of this whole journey. My surgeon has reported that she removed the tumor with clean margins and my lymph nodes are clear. So in the words of my WBF, as of right now I AM CANCER FREE!
With a most welcomed reprieve for six weeks, next on my agenda will be radiation starting sometime in December. I’ll be getting this treatment locally. After all I’ve been through it’s hard to believe I’ll be able to do this on my lunch hour. Fatigue is common, they say, but nothing like that which I’ve already endured.
As I heal, the pain is subsiding, the swelling is going down, and my chest is taking new shape. It was only yesterday that I started to see the hair on my head beginning to grow and looking in the mirror I realized I have reaped the benefits of a BOOB JOB!