"Don't spend time worrying about how you are going to die. Worry about how you are going to live today"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back to work

I have been off from my full time job as a sales representative since my surgery in January.  Today I returned to work.  It was really strange to be doing things I did in my "old life" again.  I don't know what to think about that. 

Right now it feels really overwhelming to go back to work.  I am still dealing with an allergic reaction to the chemo (itchy rash that won't go away!) and having less energy than usual.  Emotionally I feel so unfocused.  I just feel so out of sorts and distracted.  It was odd to try and concentrate on work stuff after so long.

So much has happened since I went out on short term disability at work.  My company was bought out and the merger when through.  My boss quit and I got a new boss.  They changed my territory.  I also got a new product.  Since I now techincally work for a new company, I have to switch everything - phone number, email address, order new business cards, clean out all my old promotional sales items that can no longer be used.  Everything is the new company's way now so I have to learn all of that stuff too.  It is really overwhelming that nothing at work really even feels the same after my whole personal life doesn't feel the same either.  I am taking a deep breath...............

The hard part for me too is that other than my boss, no one at work knows I had breast cancer.  I wanted to keep it that way but people are asking questions.  It is making me feel very uncomfortable.  I don't want to share my cancer business with the entire company!  I thought maybe I could just tell my immediate co-workers and ask them to keep it among our group, but I know each person will tell a person or two and before I know it everyone will know my business.  I just hate feeling like everyone deserves and explanation.  My boss was asking what I wanted him to tell people and almost encouraging me to tell people because they were asking.  I hate dealing with this...it makes me just want to run and hide!  I just want everyone to leave me alone and respect my privacy.  Why should I have to tell anyone anything?  I don't owe anyone any explanation?   Just because I worked with you for 4 years does not mean I have to tell you my personal medical business......I just don't feel ready to deal with all that comes with work.  I just want to hide at home........

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Got rid of the chemo port - yippy!

Yesterday I got my chemo port out of my arm!  Thank God!  Now that summer is almost here it is harder to hide so I am super glad it is gone.  I guess it didn't really hurt much or anything.  It was just bulky and bumping it would make it hurt.  Most of all it was ugly and a huge reminder of cancer and chemo.  So glad it's gone!

The procedure was not bad.  It was odd for me this time as I was unbelievably calm.  For every other procedure I have had, I have been completely a bundle of nerves and on the verge of tears.  For this one, I was super calm.  No tears.  As they wheeled me away from my dear husband I did not cry.  I said "love you - get some lunch and I will see you soon".  I then put my IPod on and rolled with it. 

I guess after all I have been through in the past six months, getting a chemo port out was nothing.  It was odd to be awake during this and be completely aware of everything.  I am not sure I like that so much...I would prefer to be sleeping but they don't want to sedate you if they don't have to.  The doctor wanted to start the procedure and the nurse said "I have not sedated her yet"!  Good lord once she pulled the needle out of my IV he wanted to start right away and the meds had not even taken effect. I had to ask him to stop.  I said "look, I don't feel the meds yet and I am starting to get really anxious so can you wait a minute"!  That's nuts....dude, just wait a minute - would it kill you to wait a minute?  This time I did feel them numb up my arm.  In fact, the shot of lidocane did hurt a bit and burned a lot.  I did not feel that when they put my port in. 

Overall it went quick and I did well.  My arm is starting to bruise.  It is sore right now and the incision is red.  Last time my arm had a huge, softball sized bruise when I got the port in.  I hope this time there is less bruising.

I am really tired today.  I did workout but it was really hard for me to get through it.  I still have what I call "chemo legs".  It feels like I ran a marathon when I did not. My legs are burning a lot.  Going up the stairs at night is a chore and I have to stop half way up the stairs to rest.  This seems to be common during and after chemo.  It is much worse now than it was during chemo. 

I got my prescription for tamoxifen today.  That is my follow up treatment to block any estrogen in my body.  Gosh I hope it works!  My blood counts are good except I am still anemic.  I keep taking Iron supplements and hope they work soon.  Maybe that is contributing to my leg fatigue...who knows. 

I go back to work next week.  I am nervous about that.  I don't know how to function in the real world.  I feel so distracted by my cancer bullshit.  I don't know how to stay focused on things.  It will be a long week for sure.  I am glad I have Monday off so it's only a four day work week. 

I am not going to think about work for now.  This weekend I am celebrating being done with chemo with my husband and son in Chicago.  A weekend of fun for just the three of us.  I can't wait to be on a break from BC and spend good, quality time with my boys!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Am I OK?

The other day I was at the gym and ran into a friend I no longer really see anymore.  She works part time so for her to see me at the gym during the day she wondered what was going on (since I usually work full time).  She has seen me there a few times now during the day and before I pawned it off and made excuses.  This time I felt like I had to say something since I really should have been at work if I was not on short term disability due to breast cancer. 

The conversation was so awkward for me.  She has no idea I have breast cancer and I had no desire to tell her.  I still have my hair so that part is not obvious.  My breasts were a small size B before and now they are a size C with awful looking tissue expanders until I get my permanent implants next month.  I have a port in my arm but if I keep my arm down you wouldn't notice it.  So when she asked what was going on with work I just said "oh, I had some surgery and I have been off".  She asked of course what type of surgery....I could not bring myself to tell her so I said "oh nothing I want to talk about".  She said "well, you are OK, right?".   I really didn't know what to say.  I wanted to say "no, I will never be OK".  I really had to stop myself from being honest. I said "oh, yea, I am OK" but I could not even look her in the eyes when I said it.

After we ended our conversation and she walked away I kept thinking to myself "am I OK?".  I am so scared about cancer coming back.  Now that I am no longer focused on treatments I have more time to worry about this stuff.  I am so damn angry that I got breast cancer.  I will never be "OK" knowing this can come back and take my life at any time.  I don't know how to live like this for the rest of my life.  I am scared.  I cried yesterday for the first time in weeks.  It's just not right.  I feel so betrayed, angry, cheated and scared.  The thought of not being here to raise my son breaks my heart.  I can't imagine saying good bye to him one day. 

I keep wondering when it will strike again.  Will it be two years?  Five years?  Ten years?  How much can I do in ten years?  Will I live until my son is ten, fifteen, twenty?  Will I ever see him graduate, drive a car, get married?  I don't know how to not think about this stuff all the time.  I am truly scared.  I don't even know how to talk about these things with friends or family.  I spend so much time convincing them that I am OK, I can't bring myself to share my inner fears and scary thoughts with them.  I feel so alone in this no matter how many people are around me and supporting me because there is so much I am to afraid to say out loud, let alone to the people I love. 

I hate breast cancer.  It is a evil, sneaky disease that can shake you to the core.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hair is still hanging out

So here I sit two weeks after chemo still fighting off an allergic reaction to the last round.  On the last two chemo's I experienced a horrible rash that just won't leave.  It's so itchy and uncomfortable.  I have scabs all over from itching and bruises all over my legs from itching.  I must have 15 bruises on my one calf and last time I had over 20 bruises on one thigh!  Gross!  I am glad it cooled off here so I don't need to wear shorts so these ugly legs are covered up! 

I am still pampering my hair.  It's still there so the cold caps seem to have done their job.  I am still only washing my hair once a week as I still notice some shedding.  I am just too scared to wash it more than once a week.  I am afraid that too much will come out!  Today it looks disgusting....really!  I actually put a hat on to cover that up!

The interesting thing is that my hair has grown a ton during chemo.  I need to "get in touch with my roots" badly!  Lord it must be 1 1/2 inches of roots that need to be touched up.  I guess this way people must realize it's my real hair - they can't sell wigs that look like this for sure!  I am just shocked that my hair has continued to grow so much during chemo.  Seems crazy to me.

I can't wait to wash my hair on Saturday...that's the big day for washing for me.  I hope it stops shedding soon so I can color my hair again.  For now I cringe when I see the roots...ick!  Oh well...I keep reminding myself..."a bad hair day is better than a no hair day".......

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What I learned about chemo

I still can't believe I am done with chemo.  It has been a week since my last treatment and somehow it has still not registered that I don't have to go and do it again in two more weeks.  I have to keep reminding myself! 

I do sit and reflect a bit about what I thought chemo would be like and what chemo really was like.  Before I started chemo I pictured myself as bald, thin and wrapped around a toilet puking for weeks.  I just kept picturing my face swelled up from the steroids and mouth soars too.  I also thought I would lose my lashes/eyebrows and that my finger nails and toenails would fall off.  I also imagined I would be in bed sleeping all the time from exhaustion.  I guess I read way too much on the breast cancer chat board websites for my own good! 

What I did learn is that chemo is not that bad for some people.  Chemo was not that bad for me (for that I am truly blessed!).  For me I was able to keep my hair with Penguin Cold Caps (losing my long brown hair was my worst fear!).  In fact my hair has grown about 1 1/2 inches since my last color job in late February! My eye brows have thinned but are not gone yet and now that I am done with chemo they should start growing in quick.  My eyelashes have hung on...who knows if they will go (some people lose them after they finish chemo) but for now they are just as they were before I started chemo.  My finger nails and toe nails have continued to grow throughout chemo.  I just filed them down again yesterday.  I was never really nauseous.  I have not taken one anti-nausea pill since starting chemo.  I have gotten tired a few times, usually just in the days following chemo but I have not taken one nap.

The other things I learned are that exercise is key.  I exercised 5 days a week through chemo.  I did not miss any workouts except for the infusion days.  I worked out hard too, 45-60 min on the elliptical at level 10-12.  I usually burn about 600 calories per workout!  I really pictured myself not working out at all so I made a commitment to myself before chemo that I would exercise 5 days a week, and I did it!  The funny thing is that at this very moment (yes a week after completing chemo) I am in the BEST shape I have been in for at least the past 6 years!  I am small, muscular and my body fat seems much lower.   I would have never thought I could do anything like this while recovering from a bilateral mastectomy and going through chemo.  It's nuts!

The other thing I learned is how much diet matters.  I have been following the Anti Cancer book diet principles (to eat more cancer fighting foods) and it really makes a difference.  By eliminating the refined foods and going organic I have overhauled my body.  Before this diet I had so many body aches and felt crappy (before getting diagnosed).  I never imagined that by changing my diet I would feel SO much better.  This is honestly the best I have felt since before my son was born!  My body aches are gone.  I have a lot of energy too (most of the time - except in the days following chemo).  I feel like I eat so much more food too and can't imagine how I am not gaining weight.  I guess it's because the food is even healthier than what I ate before so it makes a difference. 

Overall chemo was not fun, but I managed through it 10 times better than I ever imagined.  If anyone out there is reading this and getting ready to start chemo, don't buy into all the chemo crap.  Tell yourself you will be OK.  Get off your butt and keep moving - even if you just walk.  Drink lots of water.  Check out the Anti Cancer book and it will empower you to fight cancer through diet.  You can get through chemo without looking and feeling like a cancer patient.  I did!

Monday, May 9, 2011

It's all about the hair now

Now that chemo is done and my body won't have to get any more of it, it's all about the hair!  I still have a full head of hair, but I still have to be so gentle with it and hardly wash it or style it.  Ugh!   Don't get me wrong - I am grateful to have hair after chemo.  It's just hard to see it continue to shed, not be able to style it the way I want or just wash it more than once a week.  But then again, a bad hair day is still better than a no hair day.....

At this point the hair is hanging on.  It has thinned a bit, but I don't think anyone else can really tell.  I have lost some around the hair line and side burn area, but again I can only notice that.  My ponytail is a bit thinner, but that's OK.  I just started using some hair extensions to thicken it up a bit and it looks so much better even with only one small hair extension.  It just makes me feel better when I wear them though no one else can really tell my hair thinned.

So based on all this, I can honestly say Penguin Cold Caps really work.  It's amazing to think that I went though chemo and ended with hair.  One of my biggest fears was losing my hair.  I just didn't want my son to see me that way or remember me that way.  The thought of that broke my heart.  I can't believe I did it - chemo and kept my hair. 

I will continue to be gentle and kind to my hair in the coming weeks and hope the shedding stops soon.  I long for the day when I can color my hair and just wash it without a care.  That seems like it will be so far away..... For now, I am so grateful to have hair.  I can just close the door on chemo and move on.  That feels good.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bringing me to tears

This week has been so great.  I finished my last chemo two days ago and I was so lucky to have my best friend in the world here with me for the last few days.  She drove 5 hours to come and be with me for the last chemo.  Having her here meant everything to me!  She has been my best friend for over 20 years.  We have been through everything together so having her here for this was so special.  She left this morning...leaving me in tears, but I cherish the day we had yesterday shopping and going to lunch.  I picked up my last Pandora ring (I bought myself one for each of my 4 chemo's) and bought her one too!  We came home and cooked a healthy and fabulous dinner together and enjoyed it with my huband and son. What a great few days despite the fact that chemo was involved.

After she left I hit the gym for my usual workout and then had a special lunch date.  It was a special luncheon for Mother's Day at my 4 year old son's pre-school.  I was to bring a lunch for both of us and be there at 11:30am.  I could not wait.  I sat there feeling "normal" and just like the other moms.  I ate lunch with him.  He was so happy I was there.  They sang two songs just for us mommies.  Then he gave me a gift he made.  It was a scrap book page that I can frame with a photo of him holding a huge banner that says "I love you Mom".  It was beautifully decorated.  At that moment I just almost lost it.  I started tearing up.  I got so emotional....it was so hard for me.  The other moms probably thought I was some kind of freak (only the teachers know I have BC).  In that moment I just was filled with so much emotion.  I don't know what came over me. 

I look at my young son and think about all I have gone through and how much moments like this mean to me.  I always have that fear in my mind that maybe I won't be here for a Mother's Day soon or his birthday or something else important in his life.  I don't know how to live with that fear for the rest of my life...I really don't.  I do know that these little moments will forever be so important to me - more than I can express.  They always were even before breast cancer but now it's magnified so immensely because of the inner fear of the cancer coming back. 

I know I am done with chemo now and have done all I can do.  I will continue to exercise and follow the Anti Cancer diet to help my body fight off anything that tries to start up again.  I will take the tamoxifen to block the estrogen.  I am doing everything I can do to be here.  I know I have turned another corner on this breast cancer journey and I have to find my "new normal" and learn to not live in fear.  I need to keep praying and striving to have my faith in things be greater than my fear. 

As I sit here and look back at all the fears I have had during this, today was an accomplishment.  I remember thinking I would be that bald, bloated, sick looking person and that people would look at me with pity and only see me as a person with cancer.  I look at who I really am now...I am a woman that had breast cancer and I am healthy, fit, full of energy and have a full head of hair (thanks to Penguin Cold Caps!) after completing chemo.  I sat there today with my son at that table with just like every other mom.  That is something I didn't think I would be able to do when I started this journey.  That is an accomplishment that I am taking pride in today.  I feel truly blessed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chemo is done - slamming the door on it forever with my hair

This is surreal.  I am at the chemo center on my last chemo and I just can't believe it.  Here I sit...the chemo is technically complete and unhooked.  I am just finishing my last two Penguin Cold Caps and I will be finished - done!  I just can't believe it.

When I started the journey with breast cancer all along my worst nightmare was going through chemo and losing my hair.  I don't know why but it was.  Now here I sit done with chemo and I still have my hair.  It's amazing...simply incredible.  I can't believe I faced one of my worst fears so head on and actually did it.  This is a good feeling.  Tomorrow will be a new day!  A good one.  I am slamming the door on chemo for good - right now and moving on!!!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

How can I feel so good???

Today was a great day.  I am just sitting here completely perplexed as to how one can feel sooooo good while going through chemo?  I am not complaining....don't get me wrong, but I just don't understand.   I can honestly say that in the last few weeks I have felt better than I have in the last five years.  I just find it so completely odd that I am going through chemo and I just feel so full of energy and my body feels so young and strong.

I was talking to my husband about this yesterday and said to him "there is seriously something wrong with me if going through all of this makes me feel good....I really need to take a look at altering my life moving forward!".  What I mean by that is before breast cancer I was always tired, my body would ache and feel tight and I just felt crappy.  I guess I didn't even realize how crappy I felt until I recently started feeling so good.  How can this be???

I guess when I look at my pre-cancer life, it was nuts and completely full of stress.  I work long hours as a sales representative.  I am a mom of a 4 year old.  I teach aerobics a few times a week.  I try to fit in workouts when I can.  I cook dinner every night.  I host almost every holiday at my home and cook it all myself.  I entertain a lot and have plans on most weekends.  I was starting a business on the side too in hopes of one day transitioning from corporate America to my own business.  Life was completely nuts.  I always felt stressed out from everything, especially my job.  The stress of hitting sales numbers each month and not losing customers in a competitive marketplace just hits hard.  All of that just adds up.

What I am realizing now is that with my crazy out of control life before cancer, I thought I was healthy, but I never really took care of myself.  I hardly went to the doctor even if I was sick.  My workouts were often missed because of work or the guilt of being away from my son.  Eating right was hard because I always have lunch with customers (usually catered food) or being on the road.  I sat in my car all day driving which caused me horrible hip pain.  My feet hurt terribly and the orthopedic surgeon said I would most likely need surgery on my heel.  I felt aches all through my upper back and often in my hands from typing on my computer while parked in the car (a horrible position to type in).  I was exhausted at night.  On top of that, I felt like a real crab most of the time and was becoming someone I didn't want to be.  I was impatient with my husband and young son.  I just felt spent.

Getting the diagnosis of breast cancer certainly didn't make me feel better. That completely blew up my oh so crazy world worse, but now that I am further into this I have learned some things...life changing things.  I guess for me I have realized just what a horrible job I have done at taking care of myself.  I have realized that I put other things before my health and my family (like work).  I also learned that I stress out WAY too much over things I can't control and that only manifests itself in bad ways on me physically and emotionally.  What in the hell was I thinking?  Did I really need breast cancer as a wake up call?

I don't know what to do moving forward.  I am scheduled to return to work in a few weeks and I just don't even want to go back to my old life.  I can't even fathom going there again.  I just keep thinking that for once in my life I have actually been focused on myself and my health and it makes such a difference.  I am completely pain free.....after 5 years of body aches, stiffness and tightness in my back.  There is something to be said about that!  I have so much energy and sleep less (usually only 5-6 hours a night since December).  I eat better and have tried to eliminate all refined foods, switched to more veggies/whole grains, reduced sugar, eliminated diet soda, added in supplements/vitamins and reduced alcohol (wine) intake. 

I feel great.  I can't believe I have my last chemo on Wednesday and I feel great after all that I have been through (lumpectomy, bilateral mastectomy, chemo and just dealing emotionally with breast cancer).  I guess I know that going back to my pre-cancer life just can't happen.  I will compromise everything positive that has come out of this experience.  I don't know how to go back to work and the crazy life I had before and make it different.  How do I do that? 

I know I no longer want to continue with my current career path but I have to find a way to change that in the coming months.  I feel like my job will kill me - literally due to the stress.  I have fought so hard to live and be here for my family I just can't go back to that life.  Here I sit trying to figure out how things will be different in the future.  I have to figure this one out, soon!

For now I marvel at the day.  I got up and had so much energy.  I worked out at the gym and did an hour on the elliptical - 680 calories worth.  I couldn't even do that before breast cancer and chemo.  I honestly know the changes I have made in diet, exercise and stress reduction have changed me and healed my body and mind.  I have to continue with that plan.  For now I will focus on getting through that last chemo on Wednesday and keep feeling good in the next week (hoping for no side effects).  Then I have to get a plan for the future.  Something's gotta give!  It just has to!