Let me preface this by saying, this is not another pity party post. I am actually feeling pretty positive lately, given that I have reached the chemo summit and am now slowly inching my way down, one base camp at a time. While I still have 10 more rounds of Taxol before my mountain is conquered, in total I was prescribed 20 weeks of treatment and this was week 10. So take that Everest, I'm coming back down.
Anyway, back to reality (ha, you get it?). I came to the realization today that receiving a cancer diagnosis drastically changes reality in many ways. My perspective on a lot of things has changed and I am reaching, searching, grasping for a new normal in the midst of some rather uncertain times. So come along for the ride and let me give you a glimpse into my new reality, in no particular order.
Chemo brain: It's like pregnancy brain without the baby.
Chemo brain is a real phenomenon my friends and unfortunately, I'm afflicted with it. Main symptoms are aphasia, or inability to find the right word(s), memory loss, difficulty concentrating and loss of attention to detail. I have found the aphasia the most common for me, often times I feel like I'm on $10,000 pyramid, trying to describe the word I'm looking for.
I also have experienced some of these things prior to my diagnosis so I can't blame them all on the chemo, but this week I took the wrong exit on the way from the cancer center to daycare to pick up the girls. I was rocking some serious car karaoke to Justin Timberlake at the time, but #blameitonthechemo.
Low blood counts: Children are walking petri dishes
I have blood drawn from my port before every treatment to ensure my blood counts aren't too low before I'm allowed to have chemo. While I was receiving AC chemo (the nasty red stuff), my counts were amazingly resilient, in part because I received a shot the day after chemo to boost my white blood cells.
Taxol does not have nearly the effect on my counts so imagine my surprise when the nurse tells me my white count was 2,000 (normal range is 4,000-10,000) but because my differential (or the percentages of the types of white cells I have) was promising, I was give the go-ahead for another round of Taxol.
What this means is I am at an increased risk of infection, which is super neat for a few reasons:
1. We are entering cold and flu season
2. I work in a hospital, where sick people go to get better
3. We have two small children in daycare 50 hours a week
I'm not sure I could put myself at any more risk, unless I do something silly, like go to a children's museum. Here's hoping that my low counts are a fluke and will get their act together before next week's treatment. In the meantime, I will be covering myself in sanitizer.
Hot flashes: Because there is nothing sexier than a sweaty bald lady
I started experiencing hot flashes in my first round of chemo and they have stuck around this entire 10 weeks. Initially they were mostly night sweats, causing me to wake up both hot and cold at the same time (not really sure how this is possible, but its true!). Now I get them periodically throughout the day as well, although they are still more common while sleeping.
I am not sure if the hot flashes are from chemically induced menopause (that just brought the mood down in the room real quick) or simply a side effect from the chemo. Regardless of origin, they are an annoying, but tolerable side effect and unfortunately, part of my new reality.
Superman vs Clark Kent: Breast cancer and my mild mannered alter ego
This is the one I am struggling with the most at the moment. I got cancer and that sucks. My prognosis is good, my side effects have been manageable and I can no longer feel my tumor, which everyone tells me is a good thing and a sign that the chemo is working. All of these things are GREAT news, but it is creating this imbalance for me mentally because by all appearances, not that much has changed.
I am working nearly full time, although less hours than what I was doing prior to my diagnosis. I am still a wife and mother, responsible for caring for our kids, maintaining a household, and supporting my husband. Now that we have gotten over the hump of AC, its like life has returned to normal. Yet its not normal.
My new reality is that it will be years before my hair reaches my shoulders. My new reality is I will have surgery in January that will permanently remove any sensation I have behind my breasts, despite how close to real boobs they will appear. My new reality is even if I beat cancer now, because of my genetic mutation, I still have a risk of reoccurrence and will continue to be watched closely for decades. My new reality is every October, I will be reminded that I have become a survivor instead of a supporter, that breast cancer will forever be a part of me. I am Superman and Clark Kent. As much as I look like Clark Kent on the outside, I've changed on the inside.
I guess what I am trying to say is everyone has complimented me on how well I'm doing. How great I look or how strong and inspiring I have been. And while these compliments are great to hear and keep me going, there are days I don't want to get out of bed. There are days I am completely exhausted. There are days I want to go back and pretend this never happened. But I will forever be a breast cancer survivor. That is my new reality. And I guess if I have to be something, being Superman really isn't so bad.