You learn fairly quickly when you are diagnosed with cancer that there is a whole world you knew nothing about - a world you never wanted to learn anything about with its own terminology, procedures and treatments.
You recognize quickly that when you used to go to a doctor, you would maybe get an antibiotic or some other treatment option that would make you feel basically instantly better. Not so with entering the world of cancer treatment.
My doctors are wonderful and caring but I do know of some people that feel as though their doctors in cancer town and the cure are in some ways worse than the disease. I do remember sitting with my husband before my 3rd chemotherapy (AC - red devil) and saying, "I felt better with the cancer in my body than I do now."
It is true - the cancer was just sitting there, not causing any symptoms. In fact, I was the busiest I had been in years with my first full time job in 8 years and handling everything at home and beyond. Yet, cancer was not welcome in my body so I persevered with the treatments.
My surgeon is a doll - his role was complex but at the same time kind of "cut and dry" (pun intended) - he was able to go in, see all of the cancer and remove it. End of story. There are no "what ifs" for him - it is done to the best of his ability, he is confident and in fact after the surgery, he phoned my husband in the waiting room and said in effect, "I have removed all of the cancer, it is all gone."
My follow up with the surgeon was also one of positives - all about how the surgery was successful, how wonderfully I was healing (really, I am lucky - after surgery I never thought I would look "normal" again - it is definitely a new "normal" but it is okay to me) and to set up my appointment with the oncology department.
This is where things change - this is where you would hear the ominous music if this were a movie. The surgeon knows this is what it is - I went in and removed it. The oncologist sees everything else AFTER surgery and her tools are limited to medications and concoctions that flow through the bloodstream and are not as precise as scalpel and anesthesia.
My first oncology meeting seemed to be a hard sell to get me to agree to do the chemotherapy while I was ready and willing to do it that DAY if I could. It was a more grounding meeting discussing all of the potential side effects even the ones clocking in at less than 1%. It was sobering after the "success" of the surgery but I kept trying to think positive. I had tons of help and my wonderful guru's advice on how to survive treatment (read about it here tricks-for-treatment.html).
My husband asked the oncologist to help me calm down and explain to me what could happen and my oncologist (bless her, she meant well) began talking about (paraphrased) "..well either the cure works or you wind up with stage 4 and that cannot be cured."
That was not the pep talk he was hoping for from the doctor. But this is it, you learn real quick in the world of cancer that there are no "definites". And you also realize that your whole life you have been duped into thinking anything could be a definite. You have to believe you will be cured, you have to have faith you will be cured and yet, you still might not be cured.
The idea is though that this is life - it is not always fair, you do not have guarantees and all you can do is stay positive and focused on what you can do/control, which is not as much as you thought you could control before cancer diagnosis.
This is oddly freeing, you know you can only do so much so you stop trying to control the world with your mind. You just accept this is where you are and how to maintain your life becomes most important.
Chemotherapy and Radiation are extra layers to make sure that the surgeon's precision at getting all of the cancer out is solidified. There is always the possibility that a cell or more escaped and moved elsewhere in your body. My petscan was something that gave us some level of confidence that the cancer had stayed localized to the breast area but the fact that it had gotten into some of my lymph nodes meant it was time to layer on the treatments.
And layer them we did. Now we just wait. But I prefer to do what my oncologist told me to do. She said to just forget all of this has even happened unless you have to deal with it again. So that is what I am doing - believe it or not - even though I write about it I am exorcising it from my brain to the keyboard. Making room for the memories I am making and the new life plan I am following - less of a plan and more of a balance, of getting to be me, Lisa and not letting fear control me. I am me, I am here and that is all that matters for now.
I could not decide which to put in quotes - the last or the treatment. My overwhelmingly positive perspective made me pick treatment. Since diagnosis in November 2016, I have had multiple mammography, ultrasounds, PetScan, Radiation Mapping, a mastectomy / lymph node extraction, 16 weeks of chemotherapy (one treatment every 2 weeks; 4 AC and 4 Taxol) and now almost 7 weeks of radiation. Whew, I am tired just reading that sentence.
My doctors and nurses and radiation techs have been wonderful but the end note is that you do not want to get cancer because it is a big deal - everyone looking at you and watching your hair fall out and how tired you get not to mention the great big unknown of if the treatments worked, if you are lucky enough to never get it again. And that is what it is all about really - even though in December after surgery I was told I had "no evidence of disease" (NED) because it had gotten into 5 out of 25 lymph nodes, there was still going to have to be much more to do to make sure it stayed that way.
For me, my whole life, I have been healthy and it was scary how quickly the switch flipped from healthy as a horse to in treatment for cancer. As much as everyone is wonderful, you are still the patient and as such more of a puzzle for the people trying to keep you well. I have to say I was lucky - I was treated with kindness and like, well, ME, at all of my places of treatment. I was not reduced to just a clump of cells that went haywire and tried to kill me. A lot of that could just be because my personality has always been loud and crazy. I made more jokes while getting chemotherapy than I think most people tell in a lifetime.
As I sit here on the eve of when my "active" treatment stops, I am just relieved, happy and looking forward to balancing my new priorities and to try to move past this time of tough experiences. I will not say it was torture but I will say that sometimes it was hard to just be "me" because I have been beat up, my body has been changed significantly and my sense of certainty in my tomorrows has been called into question. I am still going to be certain of my tomorrows, though, I will not let this disease control my today so therefore, my tomorrows are all open.
And now that I do not have the every two weeks of chemotherapy and the daily radiation, I am just faced with what a twitter friend (Double Whammied) called the F/U appointments (follow up appointments).
I just have to decide how to celebrate tomorrow - my children know that now I am officially "back" - my hair is coming back in and once my skin heals and I can wear my prosthetic again and appear whole again instead of this person who has been walking around with no hair and a lopsided boob area. For my little one particularly, this is important because he has been worried that I would not make it; he still worries about the cancer coming back the poor kid and all I do is reassure him that I have no intention of having that happen and that my doctors feel the same.
I will definitely write more about my children's perspective of this disease and how having it changed some fundamental things for them and their lives along with mine. But for now, I will enjoy being on the precipice of being at the end of my "treatments" during this time between.
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