January 17th, 2015 §
Hi everyone… finally an update. I know I have been quiet. As you probably assumed, it has been a very difficult month. I finished whole brain radiation (and I needed to add the C2 vertebrae) and liver radiation a month ago. The brain and liver were two week regimens each but the start times were staggered so it took three weeks to complete. I was having trouble with my magnesium and potassium levels and those needed to be addressed. As a result I needed to be at Sloan-Kettering every weekday for more than 30 straight days between radiation and the aftermath. It was quite a schedule.
In the last few weeks my problem became swelling (edema) from inflammation from the liver radiation. My abdomen was shockingly distended and that was causing me trouble with discomfort and moving around.
I have had fatigue but it hasn’t been the sleeping-all-day form that I was warned might happen with the brain radiation. Fatigue encompasses more than just “tiredness.” For me the fatigue has been more weighted on weakness. I have had a lot of trouble walking and doing steps. I’ve needed to use a wheelchair at SK for a few weeks now. That shouldn’t last much longer as I get stronger to walk distances again. But on the bad days I couldn’t get more than down to the car for my ride.
I started Epirubicin for my chemotherapy a few days after radiation finished in December. It is dosed based on liver function so the dose has been adjusted each week as we see how my liver is doing post-radiation. I was able to get three straight weekly doses. This current week has been my “off” week; my blood counts are low from three straight weeks of chemo (to be expected in anyone getting it) so a week off is always given for the body to hopefully make enough the replenishment cells of different types.
The magnesium and potassium as of this week are finally holding with home management and no IV supplementation. A helpful tip: the low sodium form of V8 has huge quantities of potassium. Most people think of OJ or a banana to supplement. Only 8 oz of it contain 900 mg of potassium. I drink a few a day, just make sure it is the low sodium version though.
I’ve now tapered totally off the very low steroid dose I had been on for months. Steroids can make your legs very weak if you take them for an extended period of time so it is good to be able to remove them from the equation.
I only needed to go to SK for one trip this week. Diuretics have helped with the edema, each day I see and adjust the dose. I do not have pain beyond what is caused by the fluid around the liver. I do not take any pain pills and haven’t needed them during radiation. I have not had any headaches or neurological issues yet from the brain radiation which is probably due to the fact that my lesions were so small and the low dose of steroids. I am still winning a bunch of my Words with Friends games too! The last time I was able to leave the house to go somewhere except to go to Sloan-Kettering was Thanksgiving. That boggles my mind.
I think this week has been a turning point. I am hopeful the major acute radiation effects are waning. No clue what lies ahead with the delayed ones but I don’t focus on that. For now I will be working on strength (after being basically bedridden for a month) and trying to get more function back. It is a process.
If all goes well I will start a new chemo cycle next week. Radiation effectiveness can’t be assessed immediately so we will do preliminary scans in a few weeks. (I finished on 12/19). Each day is different and I can’t predict how I will feel. But that seems to be the way life will be for me now. I long ago adjusted to that.
I am grateful for all of the support and concern shown over the last month from you, I understandably wasn’t able to return many messages. This past month was really about just getting through. The energy I did have was spent making sure the kids were able to maintain their usual schedules and we made it. Friends who have helped with rides and meals: thank you.
The poppy photo above is from my garden a few years ago… I’m already anxious for Spring to get here. xo
December 27th, 2014 §
Hi all, a short update.
I’ve finished two weeks of whole brain radiation (those two weeks had simultaneous radiation to my C2 vertebrae), and two weeks of liver radiation (one overlapping with brain, so all of this was 3 weeks of treatment). I have been overwhelmingly plagued with intense fatigue and other side effects (fatigue is the worst thing at the moment though).
I need to use a wheelchair when I go to Sloan-Kettering now. I’ve needed platelets and red cells once each in the last few weeks and have needed to be at Sloan for one half-day every weekday for the last month or so because my magnesium (despite daily infusions) remains critically low, which is a dangerous situation. My potassium has similarly started to be an issue as well. I get magnesium and potassium in addition to 1.5 to 2 liters of fluids as well each day because I have been having trouble staying hydrated with the radiation effects. Not enough energy here to go into why the magnesium is still an issue now.
Four days ago on Tuesday the 23rd, I began chemotherapy (4 days after finishing all of my radiation). We are starting a new drug called epirubicin which is an anthracycline just like the well-known adriamycin (it is also red like adriamycin).
So basically I’m spending a half day at MSK every weekday and resting (I’m basically bedridden right now) at home the rest of the time. I don’t leave the house except to go to MSK. I expect at least a few more weeks of this.
I’m thrilled that my family has gone away on vacation starting today and they will have a week to ski and be with cousins and grandparents and get a fun break while I recover here. I insisted that they go; it is so important for me to know that our kids and my husband can have some vacation time and get a break. It is not easy to be a family member/caretaker under these conditions so it gives me a lot of joy that they can have a change of scenery. I have a family member staying with me since I can’t be alone and so that will work out just fine in terms of appointments and help with my needs.
I get foggy quickly so I hope this post made sense!
Many thanks as always to those who support me daily with tweets, emails, rides to appointments, donations to my research fund, meals, etc. And to any MSKCC staff who are reading this: you know how much I adore you.
I am grateful that you all continue to join me here. Wishing you a happy and healthy new year if possible and we’ll keep on going into 2015 the best we can…
November 19th, 2014 §
Nothing poetic here today. Just a report.
The past week was already one of the most challenging I’ve had this year: my first infusion last week of a triple dose of Cisplatin had me down for the count while I was also digesting the news of the growing liver metastases and what needs to be done to try to reduce those. This week I had a PET scan and CT angiogram of the liver scheduled to assist in my pre-surgical requirements for the Y90 Yttrium radioembolization I talked about in my latest update (the Y90 process is also called SIRT: selective internal radiation therapy).
As a result of the PET scan we got some additional information and what we got was not good. Obviously that isn’t a surprise given that my bloodwork had already told us the prior chemos had stopped working and the cancer has been progressing. The PET confirmed that my liver is an area of increasing trouble with tumors multiplying and growing in size. Not surprising. Also as we suspected, the fluid around my heart appears to be malignant. Then there were surprises: apparently at least one malignant lesion in my brain and new cancerous areas throughout my skull and jaw.
The PET is not a good way to identify exact size and precise location of specific tumors, however. Therefore, on Friday I will need a brain MRI to get good imaging and see exactly what is going on. Then we will see what needs attention, what is watch and wait. Not all brain lesions should be radiated with gamma knife surgery immediately; it is a risk/benefit assessment when you’re shooting radiation into the brain. Obviously, though, gamma knife surgery is a treatment that will be considered once we have details on what we are looking at.
Skull metastases, despite sounding scary, are just bony mets. This is what systemic chemotherapies (treatments that are given orally or through IV that work throughout the whole body) are designed to work on. Brain lesions often need different therapy because many/most drugs do not cross the blood/brain barrier (or do so in an indirect or imperfect way) and so are not effective in counteracting metastases to the brain. Metastases to the brain often require a change in therapy to address this issue.
For now we proceed with the liver plan because that is a local therapy designed to work on just that issue. It needs attention now and isn’t changed (yet) by this new information. As for the rest, I will just have to see what the brain scan shows and go from there. It will be a long week of tests and waiting. Sometimes I wonder how I walk around knowing what is in me and what it is doing to me and still manage to get through the day. I have seen the roller coaster of what this disease does. Some things that sound terrifying end up being able to be managed.
We will be scheduling chemo intermixed with my liver procedures (day before, or maybe a few days after), adjusting the chemo doses to lower ones so that there is time for my blood counts to rise in the time needed. It will be an art and science to balance. By then we will know if the Cisplatin is working. I can only hope that it is and that it will. We have a few choices lined up for if it isn’t.
While all of this goes on I still search for that laugh, I still appreciate the small things.
Most people know my “bit of beauty” tweet by now (“Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”). Judy Clement Wall has made this into notecards and a print and is donating all funds from sales through 2014 to my research fund at Sloan-Kettering. If interested, go here to her Etsy shop. I know that this is the quote many people will remember me for most. But I have another tweet I like to send out. Some days this one just feels right. It is:
Make the most of this day. Whatever that means to you, whatever you can do, no matter how small it seems.
For now, and again, I say: Onward.
(A housekeeping note: for anyone who has signed up to receive these posts by email but sees that posts aren’t arriving: you must confirm your subscription by clicking the verification option in the first email you will receive. If you have been wondering why you aren’t getting the emails, please re-sign up from the home page at www.lisabadams.com, upper right corner, and make sure to verify. There are loads of unverified requests and only you can do this part!)
September 8th, 2014 §
I am writing this on Monday night; by the time email subscribers read this it will be Tuesday and I’ll be done with chemotherapy again, having risen before dawn to head down to New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering
First let me report the good things. I have had some great days after my transfusion last week for severe anemia (expected often now after this much chemo).
On Friday night I drove Colin in heavy traffic to his first travel baseball game (took two hours). Then I sat watching warmup and the game which was another 3.5 hours. Then an hour home. I am detailing that time to brag. Look what I did with my son.
It wasn’t physically easy for me. But it was joyous. We got so punchy in the traffic jam that we were waving our hands in the air “seat dancing” to the music. We nicknamed a car “Duck Dynasty” that was broken down by the side of the road and then got lost at the venue and ended up 4-wheeling over gravel hills. We had a blast. Here is my precious middle child when we arrived at the field. The team won which was exciting. It was his first game on a full-sized field and also under the lights. I also got to take him to another game on Sunday; the team lost that one but it didn’t much matter to me. I got to not only be there to cheer the boys on, but also bring them water and popsicles on a scorcher of a day on the field.
The medical update since the last post is that in short, there isn’t a good clinical trial that I qualify for/am willing to enroll in right now. The chemo regimen that I am on makes me ineligible for some because it affects my blood counts so severely each time now (quite a catch-22, I would need to go off chemo to even have a chance at being considered). One trial I can’t be considered for because there isn’t enough tissue left from a previous biopsy to use it for required testing. Because my cancer is primarily in bones or other places inaccessible by surgery, this is not an easy problem to fix.
Now I’m going to get a bit technical. I’m hoping to explain a bit about how the different clinical trial types work since many people don’t know these distinctions. Consider this your breast cancer education for the week! Yeah, you know I’m not a doctor so I’m explaining this to the best of my ability. Ask a doctor for more info, especially one who works in clinical trials to be sure the trials you or a loved one might be considering work the same way.
Here we go:
One type of Phase I clinical trial (which I would qualify for) is risky enough that this option isn’t reasonable to me right now. Let me clearly state that they may become very reasonable options at some point soon and I totally understand why other people choose to do them! These particular phase 1 trials I’m opting out of for the time being are the kind that are testing safety of a medication previously untested in humans. That is, they don’t yet even have a dose that they know is safe. They are called “dose escalation Phase I trials” which means they start with a low dose they think is safe and gradually increase the dose until the side effects become too bad and the test subjects can’t continue and they stop participating. They do these on a small number of people.
This process establishes the maximum tolerable dose and the company hopes to then proceed to a Phase II trial. That Phase II trial tests if that established maximum tolerable dose even does anything measurable (Phase II trials test for efficacy: is this drug keeping the cancer stable or even causing it to shrink?).
To complete the clinical trial trio, a Phase III trial tests the “current standard of care” plus the trial drug against the current standard of care alone. That is, does adding this drug to a treatment that is a normal one for this cancer improve outcomes above and beyond just giving the treatment the patient would normally get (are results better? The same? Worse?). For ethical reasons there are no placebos used alone instead of treatment in Phase III trials in metastatic breast cancer. They would be used only to combine with the standard of care treatment. No patient goes untreated. All get the usual treatment as the guarantee.
This process means that during the Phase I dose escalation trial I first mentioned 1) you don’t know if the trial drug is safe, 2) you don’t know if that dose is too low for some or all of that time to even be doing anything, even if it is eventually going to be efficacious, and/or 3) if it even works at any dose (without making things worse). This means continuing with your cancer potentially untreated for months, an often dangerous proposition in metastatic cancer.
I don’t want to go into more details of those trials but I do think it’s important for me to continue to explain the way that some clinical trials work with metastatic breast cancer.
As I think I mentioned in my last post, the likely immediate plan was to increase the dose of one or both of my current chemo drugs. Because I opted not to pursue enrolling in a clinical trial I will remain on IV chemo. If I had chosen the trial I would need an additional two weeks without any chemotherapy to complete the mandatory washout period where I do not use any medications to treat the cancer because their presence in my body could affect the trial drug results or side effects.
I am going in for an increased dose of Carboplatin and steady dose of Gemzar on Tuesday. I did have one increase already in the Spring on my Gemzar dose. We will see what kind of response we can get from this Carboplatin increase, if any. It will hopefully buy us some time until some other trials open up and/or we can consider if we can do a biopsy once we see a current CT scan.
A few readers were concerned that I was relying too heavily on tumor markers in my decision-making. In short, I’m not. I am well aware (as I’ve said in almost every post except last time) that markers, particularly CA 15-3, are not reliable for many people. This is why this test is not used as a screening test for people to find out if they have breast cancer. If it were valid they would use it instead of or in conjunction with routine mammograms.
I know many doctors don’t use blood tests for markers at all and for some types of breast cancer they are totally worthless. Trust me, oncologists at Sloan-Kettering are well aware of all of this information as am I. The most important piece of information is a history of them in me and how they correlate with scans and my disease progression. I am one of the people for whom they are tightly and reliably correlated with my disease. We have had seven years of studying them in my particular case and two years with close monitoring during metastatic disease. So while I definitely appreciate the concern, you can rest assured that we make decisions with all of this in mind. It was my error in not putting that usual caveat in that last post.
So… for now the plan is: higher dose of one of two chemo agents on Tuesday. Test markers to see what they’ve done in last few weeks.
In case you are curious, going for chemo doesn’t just mean getting two drugs. The infusions I will get on Tuesday are numerous. I will get the following 8 infusions in this order: Decadron (helps with nausea and mainly to help prevent an anaphylactic reaction to Carboplatin because I’ve had more than 6 infusions), Pepcid (helps with anaphylaxis prevention and also bonus heartburn help), Benadryl (helps prevent anaphylaxis), Carboplatin (chemo agent #1), 1 liter fluids (helps prevent dehydration and bonus helps to keep kidneys functioning well to avoid high creatinine levels that can be dangerous), Aloxi (anti-nausea, blocks signals from stomach), Gemcitabine (chemo agent #2), Emend (blocks nausea and vomiting signals from the brain).
Away I go… thanks for the support. These days of uncertainty are difficult for me. I like a plan.We have a short term one and I am, as always, moving forward. As I wrote in a prior post and re-read tonight:
Cellular biology is King.
But paired to that fateful ruler
I shall be an argumentative, rebellious Queen.
Wring the most out of each day.
Find those bits of joy and beauty,
Make sure that what I’m doing isn’t waiting around to die.
For truly, that would be a waste.
March 4th, 2014 §
Hi everyone, an update to briefly say hello since my posts are still infrequent. It’s been about three months now since this particular acute metastatic breast cancer episode started. First I was stuck at home in pain with tumors in my spine and hips before and during the holidays. Then I was in the hospital for three weeks at the start of 2014 getting pain under control and having two weeks of radiation. Now I’ve been home for another six weeks since leaving the hospital.
After such a long period of time many people will start to assume you “must be back to normal by now.” Each day they anxiously wait for news that someone “feels better.” It doesn’t work like that all the time, just the way with metastatic cancer you don’t “beat it.” A good day or two may come, but they are often followed by a bad one, or two, or three. Add chemo to the mix and you start to realize the good days are relative and elusive in incurable cancer. Support is always so appreciated as the days, weeks, months go by. It’s friendship for the duration.
There are many situations where isolation may be a real danger including examples of infertility, chronic illness, and grief. Those who must deal with these problems start to feel isolated. Additionally, they may start to actively separate from others when they feel that life is just moving on without them. As time goes on, they may hesitate to talk about their problems because they fear that friends will have grown weary of hearing about it/ still can’t relate to it. More and more, they keep these things to themselves. This leads both to further isolation and also the faulty notion from their friends that the person is “over it.”
The truth is that it’s very hard when difficult situations of all kinds linger. I think we all do better when tough times are brief. Being in one of these situations has shown me the depth to which this is the case.
Today I had to miss Tristan’s Spring music show at school. It broke my heart to tell him I couldn’t attend. They were able to videotape it and I know we will watch it together and have a special time doing that. If it were just one thing it would be different. But as any parent can imagine, saying, “I’m so sorry but I can’t…” again and again for months is difficult. The truth is that if I knew it were temporary it would be easier. But I know that there will be more and more things I can’t do with the kids. And that’s what weighs on me: this thing is part of a whole.
I tried driving last weekend but unfortunately, for now, the verdict is that I am still unable to do more than go to the bus stop at the end of the street if needed. So I continue to be housebound.
I’m working with my doctors to adjust my medications and try to manage the vertigo, sedation and pain. I am using less pain medicine (hooray) but unfortunately I still feel so rotten I sometimes can’t get out of bed and most often can’t go anywhere except to chemo. It is a cruel balance. This weekend I was stuck in bed for three days. It saddens me to lose so much time.
I still long to write here more. I miss the creative part of my brain working the way it used to. I miss poetry and photography and so many things. I will bring them back though! The orchid photo above is one I took in the kitchen this week. My friend Alex brought me lunch and a beautiful potted orchid. I even ordered daffodils with my groceries this week to remind myself of the garden outside and what’s waiting under this snow.
Winter break at school came and went. I know it’s a very busy time for everyone as Spring approaches. It’s hard to see life outside passing me by while I wait for Spring so I can at least get fresh air here at home. It has continued to be cold and wintery over the past few weeks. If you’re able to be outside today doing anything: errands, standing at the bus stop, or waiting the train platform on your way to work: think for a moment what it would feel like not to do any of that for three months. It’s a very long time. Mundane things can be sweet when viewed in a different light.
I am so grateful for the offers of help and meals that continue to come. Let me assure you they are so needed and appreciated. I will have chemo again this week. In two weeks’ time the plan is to do scans to see if there is any visible evidence about whether radiation and chemo have shrunk the cancer.
My daily reminder: Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.
In case you need a bit of beauty I will leave you with one of mine, a good laugh this week from Tristan. With a very serious expression on his face he says to me quietly from the dinner table, “Mom, I have something to tell you and you’re not going to like it. It’s something I learned. I was reading it in a book. But I think you will be upset. The book was about Albert Einstein. It said that for a while he didn’t want to go to school. He didn’t want to learn things in school that they wanted him to learn. He just wanted to learn what he wanted to learn. He stayed home for a while and didn’t go to school. See? I think you would not think that was very good that Albert Einstein didn’t want to go to school.”
February 7th, 2014 §
It’s hard to believe how many days went by when I was in the hospital. It’s hard to believe how many days have gone by since I’ve been home.
I have wanted to write a blogpost so often. I sat down at the computer many times in the last few weeks to update you on what has been going on.
Most often what happened when I did that is simple: I got very tired and fell asleep. Sometimes my vertigo was really distracting. Sometimes the distraction was something wonderful: one of the kids wanted to tell me something. Frequently it was Tristan in his little voice saying, “I love you, Mama.” That one always takes priority, of course.
I’m on a lot of pain medication at the moment. I have been since leaving the hospital almost three weeks ago. The positive effects of radiation haven’t quite kicked in yet. I still have many of the negative effects of radiation. These will go away soon. But right now I’m still waiting. This is totally normal for radiation that is used in the way I used it, I should point out; it takes weeks, and in fact months, for the positive benefits of radiation to be fully realized. During that time the negative side effects of radiation can linger.
They radiated my spine in the T9/T10 areas from both the front and back and also radiated my pelvis through from the left and right sides for ten sessions over two weeks. The side effects that I have are related to the particular lines of radiation and what areas the beams hit while also hitting their targets. For me, esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon, pelvis, sacrum, and spine were the main areas hit. Esophagitis which makes eating and drinking painful is starting to decrease (but the raspy voice continues). Problems with digestion continue. Lowered blood counts continue. Pain and inflammation in nerves and tumor sites continue. Heartburn and colitis have decreased. I do not have radiation burns right now and they really didn’t get too bad over the course of those two weeks, just some sensitive pinkish/brownish areas.
The pain that was so debilitating is finally under control with pain patches. It takes quite a high dose to keep it managed right now but we will try decreasing this amount as the weeks go on. I will meet with the palliative care team in a few weeks to talk through a strategy for the reduction. The team is always available by phone for any fine tuning or questions that I have until that time.
Again I’d like to remind readers that palliative care is not synonymous with end-of-life care. Palliative care is for pain management and side effect management at any point of treatment for cancer or other diseases. If you have pain or other problems that are bothering you or a loved one, I encourage you to talk to the specialists in palliative care. They will be able to help.
Patients and their families often wait too long to consult with these specialists because they think talking to them implies something about death. It does not. In fact, if you wait too long (until the very end of life) the palliative team will probably be less likely to fully help you or your loved one because they won’t know how the patient responds to different medications, what their side effects are, what doses they respond to, etc. Palliative care doctors can help better if they know the patient and their particular side effect profile. I implore you to use them sooner rather than later. Time and again, studies have shown that healing occurs better when patients are not in pain.
We aren’t quite sure where it’s coming from, but my vertigo is quite the problem right now. We know it is from one of my medications, presumably the pain one. Of course for now I still need to make my pain medication the priority. As I said earlier, as soon as I can, I’ll be decreasing that dose. We know from a scan a few weeks ago that I do not have any metastases in my brain causing the vertigo. Of course that was a natural concern and it’s nice to have that possibility off the list. I still can’t drive because of the vertigo. So I’ve been housebound for the three weeks I’ve been home. Before that I was in the hospital for almost three weeks. I don’t have cabin fever too much because of the bad weather we have been having. But I’m probably getting close.
I’m still trying to figure things out. I’m still adjusting to the new information about the tumors and the progression that’s been happening in my body over the last few months. I’m learning about the genomic mutations that are present in the metastases and what they mean for future chemotherapy and clinical trial choices. I did not start the clinical trial I was planning to, obviously. Instead, we needed to do more aggressive and surefire treatments rather than investigational. Therefore, I did the radiation and then started chemotherapy 5 days after the completion of radiation (a bit of a fast track but I felt up for it and my bloodwork and exams indicated to my oncologist that I was ready).
I started chemotherapy two and a half weeks ago. I’ve had three infusions so far of Taxol. This is an intravenous chemotherapy that works on rapidly dividing cells of all kinds. One ramification of that action is that it will make my hair, eyebrows, and lashes come out in the next few weeks. I received it in a different regimen six years ago as many people do with early stage breast cancer following the use of Adriamycin and Cytoxan on a dose-dense schedule (every 2 weeks). It’s a popular drug.
The way it’s used now in the metastatic setting is different in terms of dose and frequency of infusions. In the metastatic setting there are different doses that are used. I’m using the highest right now. It is done in a “three weeks on, one week off” schedule. That means I get it once a week for three weeks and then I get a one week break. Though I never had a bad reaction to it in 2007, I did have a reaction to the drug the first time I got it a few weeks ago. I won’t go into the details of it here. I’ll just say that with increased amounts of steroids as pre-meds I’ve done just fine with the Taxol since that first episode.
For now I’ll close by saying I’m grateful for the friends that have been lending a hand with rides and playdates and meals while I’ve been housebound and unable to drive. I’m thankful for all of my readers who have been checking in on me and waiting patiently for this update. I am so happy to see so many new blog readers and Twitter followers in the past few weeks!
I want to give special recognition to all of the doctors, nurses, aides, therapists, and everyone else I came in contact with at Sloan-Kettering while I was hospitalized. Yes, there are always ways to improve, but I can truly say that I felt fortunate to be in such a caring environment for those weeks. I never doubted that it was the right place and that everyone there had my health and overall well-being first and foremost in their minds. It was always a team effort and for those of you who helped me in every way, I thank you. The fact that I miss so many of the you who cared for me shows that you made an impression on me.
The blogposts will return to a mix of updates, practical advice, and poetry as the weeks go on and I feel more and more like myself. Most posts will be shorter than this one but I know most of you have been wondering how I am and what I’ve been up to. I think this brings you up to date.
*Please note that I do not need suggestions for my side effects. I haven’t gone into the details here of what I’m taking, but I do have what I need from my team. Thank you!
Find a bit of beauty in the world. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.
January 8th, 2014 §
I add another ball of surgical tape to the back of the photograph of my family hanging at foot of my bed.
I wake up fettered, chained, restrained in body and mind.
The room is cold and yet it stifles:
Choking, pulling, grabbing me back, reeling me in.
I start to shake, fear manifest in movement,
Waiting for Reality,
The next interloper…
Another who will not be pushed away,
Wished or willed or
I search for powers to rise above, get out, fly away.
Those dreams cannot escape that reality.
That shaking cannot stop.
When repeatedly pushing the button of narcotics is an act of acceptance,
A realization of what is,
In part an impotent attempt to eject myself from the room, the bed, my body.
The tears which accompany my pathetic try stay safely tucked away,
Hiding with hope and mental acuity and certainty.
Like middle school children the fear starts to divide, partners off, chooses a companion for the evening.
Two by two, hands on hips, turning tightly into a circle
Guarding spots of possession,
This is mine.
The fetters must remain and yet I will not budge.
I have my spot.
But it is still mine.
I have my life.
I watch it shrink.
I have my words.
But now I see them dissolve around the edges
Like watercolors they bleed as they search for pristine lands to conquer
As they stretch that lifeline.
The words of disease become words my brain gravitates to.
The ebb and flow of cancer,
And so too,
Each night when I return to my room after radiation now it happens:
My voice instantly is quiet, reverent.
I am resepectful of what I ask that beam to do,
I ponder the magnitude of something I cannot see.
And so I affix that photograph, one more piece of tape just in case.
Holding on to all that matters,
Doing as much as I can for as long as I can.
Day by day,
Storing up bits of beauty wherever I can find them.
January 11th, 2011 §
June 18, 2010
There. I did it.
This picture shows me one month after I finished chemo. Peach fuzz growing. Eyebrows gone. Eyelashes gone. Both pencilled in to hide their absence.
This is the only picture I have of myself bald. When I was a shiny cue ball it never occurred to me to document it. If you look closely at my left eye, you’ll see a tear resting on my lower lid. I had just stopped crying. Long enough to put on makeup and flash that killer smile. I was just about to get my tissue expanders out and have my silicone implants put in. It was right before my 38th birthday. That’s what I told my plastic surgeon I wanted for my birthday– to be done with that next phase of my reconstruction.
It was hard to go in for that particular surgery at that particular time in my treatment regimen. When the staff came to wheel me in I had to remove my scarf. My surgeon hadn’t seen me bald. The nurses, my father, my doctor… all of them saw my head then. Of course it was run of the mill for them. They saw cancer patients all the time. But for me it was another way my dignity, my identity, my humanity were being stripped from me. I donned the fabric shower cap gladly, happy to have something (albeit flimsy) to conceal my naked head.
Only moments before, I stood in the bathroom with my plastic surgeon while he marked my body once more with his ubiquitous purple Sharpie pen. We talked again about final details of my breasts. I realized how these conversations had become so routine between us. While the subject of my breasts was no longer one that even caused a pause in chatter for us, I didn’t want him to see my head. Somehow it was more personal, more private, more embarrassing to me than the fact that he not only saw, but touched, drew on, and even photographed my breasts on a regular basis during reconstruction. Those interactions were scripted. Defined. But my head? I hadn’t realized he was going to see that. And there was embarrassment there. It wasn’t happening on my terms.
So today I am taking control and doing it on my terms. When Melissa Etheridge performed bald at the Grammys in 2005 (before I was even diagnosed) I remember thinking, “She is strong. She is real. She is brave. She is beautiful.” What she did in that moment was important. I bet it was liberating to her. So I’m going to try it. It’s too late for me to try it in reality (and I don’t want to pull a Britney Spears and shave my new hair off to be bald again).
Today is the 2 year anniversary of the day I finished chemo. So, in celebration, I’m taking off my metaphorical scarf. I’m going bald here today. I want to see how it feels.