Friday, August 22, 2008

A Sense of Gratefulness

The only moments that I can recall in my life feeling a real sense of gratefulness have been after a big event - a wedding, a new baby, a car crash and getting through cancer ... again. These moments forced me to quickly reflect on what I have and how grateful I am.

Yesterday when I went into see Dr. Webster for a check up, I found out that I don't need to return to see him again for 3 months. Having completed the radiation, I am moving onto the "maintenance" side of things. Although I will still have the hormone treatments for the next year or two, it will definitely be more on the side lines of my life.

Getting through everything the first time was amazing too, but I didn't really get to finish before my cancer recurred. So in some ways this time is different. I feel like the first time was hard to get through, but this time was truly the ironman. Many people think that cancer is a physical game and it is. But the really tricky part is the mental game you're in. It's all about keeping up your strength to get through the fight while keeping your spirit in tact.

So, that may help you better understand why I really need to know if I'm out of the game or not. To this end, I convinced Dr. Webster to run another CT Scan on my chest and abdomen to ensure there are no new spots there. When my cancer recurred in January, there was a great risk that it was no longer confined to the breast area. We ran a CT Scan there and were elated to find out that it wasn't showing up anywhere else. I need to know for certain once again that I am clear and then, I can get out of the game mentally and get onto living my life again.

But all in all, I am feeling more mentally clear and physically stronger than I have in several months. I started back at work part time this past week and it was great to feel like I am truly in the right job there. Ryan and I also celebrated our 5 year anniversary and reminisced on how quickly time has gone and how much we have been through together so far. Talyn started at a new dayhome in preparation to start pre-school in September. All of these things feel distantly familiar to me. They remind me of a pre-cancer time when all there was to worry about was day to day things.

And so I left the Tom Baker Center yesterday, feeling a deep sense of warmth in my belly, which can only be a true sense of gratefulness for life. We are all so lucky to have what we do and I realize that more than ever after getting through this battle a second time. Although I won't get the true "all clear" for a couple of months after my CT Scan, I feel a large victory has been won already.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What is the new normal?

Yesterday I said goodbye to radiation and Unit #1. I told them that I hope to see them again, just not for treatment. They said that even though my treatment is done, to continue to rest and take care of the treated area because my symptoms should peak in about a week. What that means is that my cottage vacation includes no swimming or sitting out in the sun. Oh well, at least I'm done!

The second injection to shut down my ovaries last week went much better than the first. I have had no major reactions to it, only a big increase in hot flashes. Last night I woke up about 10 times because of it, so I will talk to my oncologist about anything to help that out. The changes that I can pinpoint from my first injection include some time off of work to rest my body and starting acupunture again. Although resting is a hard prescription for me to follow, I have seen the results of it directly in the past couple of weeks.

This afternoon I complete my 18th and last treatment of Herceptin. My body has had mixed reactions to this drug, so I am still a bit nervous about it, but will be very greatful to be done with this one (as will my veins). The pre-drugs they give me for this make me very drowsy for the better part of 24 hours afterwards, so I plan to pack up this morning and then just sleep any effects off.

It will take me a while to adjust my mindset to a maintenance mode for my cancer treatment. The good side of this is much more time for my body to heal, less visits to the cancer center and therefore more time for everything else in my life. The bad side of this might be that the anxiety of another recurrence will hit me harder than ever.

It is fairly normal for cancer survivors to be hit fairly hard mentally once they're out of the major treatments. While they are going through treatments, their mind is focused on survival and the next appointment, but afterwards it can all come crashing down. My knowing this in advance will definitely help me deal with it if it happens.

Tomorrow we leave for our vacation at my parents place and then we return to figure out what our new normal life will look like. I look at it like an exciting new opportunity to focus on the things in life that matter to me - my family, my job and my volunteer work, which all give me the opportunity to positively touch people's lives.

Use this chance to live through my learning and for the next few weeks take some time to figure out what is important to you and whether you are spending enough time on it. The fall is a great time for a fresh start!