There’s a new sentence I have added to my repertoire. A phrase that I find myself saying quite often and before last year would have seemed absurd:
“Lucky for me I have chemo tomorrow (or this week).”
I said it on Tuesday after I crashed on my bike going up a hill in Andover. My gears locked up and since my feet were clipped in to the pedals, there was no where to go but down. Hard. The handlebars went into my chest right below where my port lies. I was panicked that I had damaged the port or one of the lines that goes into my artery that leads to my heart. After I dusted off and got back in the saddle, I turned to Susan and said, “Luckily I have chemo tomorrow.”
What has happened over the last year and a half is that I tend to save all my ailments for when I have my chemo appointments — every three weeks. When I fell on my knee the week before I decided to wait and have my oncologist tell me weather it was infected and prescribe antibiotics if necessary. Last time I had them check my implant. Some day I will probably see if they can fill my cavities.
Every time I go in there is a parade of doctors who see me. First the nurse draws my blood and asks how I am doing, “Are you in any pain?” they always say. “Not really” is usually my answer. Then in comes the Pharmocologist. She has been with me since the first rounds of AC. She was instrumental in changing my medications to alleviate nausea and the constipation that the drugs caused. Nowadays she is interested in the side-effects of Tamoxifen, and making sure I take the proper vitamins and calcium to help with my now-menopause -induced -aging bones. She also is part nutritionist and tries to give me advice on eating foods that contain certain minerals. This week I complained that my feet were cramping up at night and when I swim — which was becoming painful. She told me that I needed more magnesium in my diet, and to HYDRATE.
When the Pharmacologist is done with me, in comes the nurse practitioner. She knew about my fall because the original nurse who took my blood put out an e-mail to everyone. Like a cancer patient APB. The nurse practitioner is very serious. Smart, but serious. A little uptight. She talks about the issues I am having and pretty much tells me the same things that the oncologist will tell me. I am not sure why she comes in first. I have never figured that out. Maybe they think I will say something different to her than to my Doctor.
Shortly after the uptight nurse leaves, the oncologist breezes in. “What the hell did you do?” she asks.
“Hmmm, what the hell did YOU do,” I asked back, spying the cast on her leg. Seems she broke her ankle while tripping over her dog. I felt vindicated. Mine wasn’t that clutzy.
After we go over my blood levels and electrolyte levels, checks my lungs and sets up an appointment for an echocardiogram, we chit-chat about biking. She is an avid rider who bikes across country. She tells me how much I am going to love the Pan Mass Challenge and she is genuinely happy that I am doing it. I ask her if I can stop taking the Tamoxifen because I hate it and she tells me what I already know:
“NO. Absolutely not. The tamoxifen and the herceptin are actually more important than the initial chemo.”
Fine. I’ll keep taking it.
From there it is up the elevator one floor to Dana 10 for my infusion. My girl Heidi is the oncology nurse I have every time. She is wonderful. If there is ever an ailment or problem that I have neglected to tell the others, I tell Heidi, and she puts an APB out from upstairs. I love talking to her about the kids and her life and mine and I usually make her laugh, which is always a good thing when you are surrounded by much sorrow.
So my chemo days have turned into total health days for me. No cell in my body is left unturned and no pain is ignored. It’s comforting. I believe that I only have 3 more infusions left. This is fabulous and amazing when I think how far I have come. When I think that at the beginning of this journey, the end seemed so far away and impossible to attain. But here I sit, looking at the end. I am starting to understand the feelings that I have read about — when people stop treatment and the depression sets in. As wonderful as it is, it is also somewhat scary. After July I am left on my own with my aches and pains. I won’t have that reassurance every 3 weeks that I have become so accustomed to. I go back to being ordinary, like everyone else; which means I will have to call my primary care physician. Too bad I can’t seem to remember her name….
I remember like it was yesterday when I finished my radiation treatments at Mass General that I cried in the waiting room before my last treatment. I gave gifts to all the nurses, had lunch with my friends that I saw for the past 6 weeks, every day, and we celebrated and cried at the same time. I was depressed because it had become my daily routine, I enjoyed the beautiful mile walk during lunch (it was the most exercise I had had at that time). That was 5 1/2 years ago. A year ago my co-worker started her radiation at the same hospital, mentioned my name, and the nurses claim they remembered me with my radiation buddy Karen. I was completely shocked – they are remarkable women and men that work in the cancer “industry” and have hearts larger than the universe.