Would You Rather Be Shot Or Jump Off A Cliff?

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

Go ahead. Take a couple weeks before you give us your decision. It can wait until after the holidays. Now keep in mind that 2 out of 10 women actually survive being shot, while the whole cliff thing is really sketchy…not much good going on there. But…and this is a big but…being shot can lead to all sorts of complications, depending on where you choose to take the bullet. So you may just wish you were dead.

This is something like the conversation I had last week with my oncologist, slightly paraphrased of course. Yes, I’ve finished radiation and been issued my platinum invitation to board the Tamoxifen train. Toot! Toot! He actually turned to me at one point and said “Have you done any research about Tamoxifen?” I just looked at him with wide eyes and replied “Really?”. He quickly realized what a foolish question that was and chuckled softly. “Oh yes, what was I thinking? Go ahead, tell me what you found.”

Of course I had been feverishly burning up the internet for days trying to tease out minute details about survival and recurrence statistics from mountains of muddled data. And let me tell you, they make it next to impossible to find “the bottom line”, which in my book is the absolute survival advantage in those who take this drug. I don’t care about relative risk or any other statistical shenanigans that pass for science. I was finally able to get a 10-year absolute survival difference of 10.9%, meaning that of 100 women, 11 more will be alive in 10 years if they take Tamoxifen than if they don’t.

I told the oncologist about this, and he agreed, saying that the odds might be slightly better for someone my age with my cancer, perhaps 12-15% greater survival. I’m not sure where he gets those numbers, as I was unable to find them. However, I also told him that I had serious concerns about the potential side effects of the drug versus the benefit. Common side effects include: hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings, depression, joint aches, cognitive difficulties (such as forgetting words), weight gain and headaches. Rarer side effects include blood clots, stroke, and uterine cancer.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am just not dying to get on this train. First of all, I am deeply mistrustful of drug studies. I’ve taken enough research courses to know that data can be manipulated to say just about anything. I also know that the FDA does not require these companies to submit data showing adverse outcomes or data which doesn’t support the benefit of the drug. You only have to look at the long list of drugs which have been approved and later pulled from the market due to serious, often fatal events, or lack of efficacy to realize that you can’t always count on the “peer-reviewed research”.

Those concerns aside, I am feeling healthy for the first time in a year. I ran 8 miles last week. My color is good, and my hair now looks like a cute, short style instead of a chemo-ravaged patchwork quilt. I don’t want to be sad and have achy joints. I don’t want to be fat and wringing wet every morning. It feels very unnatural to take a body that is on the mend and feed it a drug that wreaks such havoc. The doctor said we will deal with whatever side effects come up, meaning he can give me different pills to add to the first pill.

I think the photo below shows a much better idea of what can be done with Tamoxifen bottles and a little creativity. I have to give credit to “The Sarcastic Boob” at http://thesarcasticboob.com/2012/08/16/ten-things-to-do-with-tamoxifen/ for this hilarious post.

tamoxifen boobs

All kidding aside, I truly believe in the ability of the body to heal if given the chance. I’m not against medical intervention when necessary, but I don’t think it’s natural to have zero estrogen, which will be the effect of the Tamoxifen. I understand that my tumor was fed by estrogen, but I’m not sure if it was that simple. Cancer is a very complicated, multifactorial disease. My fear is that the cancer will outsmart all of these outside interventions and come back more ruthless than ever. I expressed this to the oncologist, and he had to agree that if we use Tamoxifen and the cancer metastasizes anyway, it will likely be very aggressive and difficult to treat.

So…here I am again, at the edge of the cliff with a 9 millimeter in one hand. I think I may just lay the gun down and back away slowly. You’ll be the first to know.

 

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Priceless Kids’ Reactions to The Best Gift of All

During this time of crass commercialism, we so often forget the meaning of the season. Does your husband really need another wallet? Does your child need another electronic gadget to keep him isolated from the rest of the family? Sometimes, the best gifts are those that require no fancy paper or ribbons, only love and a little bit of luck. I hope you enjoy this short video as much as I did. Be sure to keep the tissues handy.

 

Unfinished Grief and Haunted Dreams

Have you ever had one of those dreams about someone you’ve lost? You know, the kind of dream that is so real you can feel the person’s skin against yours and breathe in his scent as you embrace him from the depths of your soul? I would like to believe that our loved ones come .back to us from time to time and give us the gift of their presence, if only for a few fleeting seconds while we sleep.

I had one of those dreams last night. They always take me by surprise and turn my gut inside out with raw emotion. They are both comforting and profoundly disturbing because they stir up the pain that has been dormant and make it very real once again. Yet, I treasure them because they are the closest thing to having my son in the same room with me that I have these days.

The dream was nothing really, some snippet of frames in my mind pasted together in no particular order. But the scene I remember was of waiting for a car to pick me up on a street corner. As the car approached, I saw that my ex-husband, James’ father, was driving. My current husband was in the back seat next to another random man, and James sat in the third spot. James would have been 26 this past October, but this is the little guy who was in the car:

Photo Aug 08, 2 59 06 PM

 

He was probably 4 years old in this picture, not much younger than my youngest now. As I opened the door to get in the car, he scrambled over to my husband’s lap to make room. I shut the door and we started moving. In a moment, I held out my arms to him and said “Come sit on Mommy’s lap.” He climbed up with his little back against my chest and I wrapped my arms around him and smelled the sweetness of his hair. He was there with me for that brief moment.

I began to sob in the car, holding my baby, because a part of me knew that it was all a dream and would be taken away again shortly. It’s odd how we know that we are dreaming in that strange twilight place between sleep and wakefulness. We hold on to those last few moments, wishing that we could stay longer. But it always ends.

This morning I am very grateful for the nighttime hug, but very sad. I don’t know when the mourning really ever goes away, or if it does. It will be 6 years this March since I lost James, and most of the time I think I’m ok with it. I carry on with life and laugh and enjoy myself. But then it comes back unexpectedly and hits me on the head like a sledgehammer, and it may as well have been yesterday. At these moments, I know that my journey with grief is still very much in progress.

As any parent who has lost a child will attest, I have regrets. I don’t remember the details quite as clearly as I would like, and I beat myself up for things I could have done better. I was 20 when James was born, and I was very excited to have him. But, I was barely more than a child myself, and I couldn’t escape being somewhat self-absorbed at times. I loved him dearly, but my own needs took precedence occasionally. It was a lot for a young girl to take on.

He was a very intelligent and intense child, and it got to be overwhelming sometimes. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s sofa with James climbing on me. I set him over to the side; I just needed some space for five minutes. Mima said to me “Can’t you see how much he loves you?” I replied, “I know he does, but I need a break.” I was his world, his entertainment, his teacher, his jungle gym…and I was just tired. i needed to have fun and do things that college-age kids do. And then I would feel guilty.

One particular scene that is forever etched on my brain is of the two of us in the car. James was 3, and I had just met my current husband. I was smitten and anxious to develop this blossoming relationship, but it was very difficult to get out with a small child. We had made plans to go out one night, and I had arranged a babysitter. James was a little under the weather with a cold. As we drove to the babysitter’s house, I was filled with excitement about the date, and then James turned to me with pleading eyes. “Mommy, I don’t feel good. Please don’t drop me off.”

In that moment, with the mind of a love-struck 20 year-old, I made the decision to go ahead with my plans. I told him that he would be fine and could take a nap at the sitter’s house, and off I went. I have relived that scene a thousand times since he died, wishing I could have that moment back, along with several others. If I had loved him better, would he still be alive? If I had stayed with his father, would that have made the difference?

Logically, of course, I know that our kids’ lives are beyond our control after a certain point, but emotionally, those scars run deep. I was a good mom, and I tried very hard. But in the end there are no do-overs. And in the stillness of the night, when he comes back to visit me, I would give anything to have him climb on my lap again so I could tell him what a perfect, sweet, beautiful boy he was and how lucky I was to have known him.

Livin’ It Up “Cancer-Free”

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

It’s been a whirlwind week in the land of the “cancer-free”. I have celebrated grand new beginnings and bittersweet endings. I’ve been wined and dined and entertained. I’ve put up a tree with twinkling colored lights and adorned the house with the festive colors and scents of Christmas. Here’s a peek at what transpired…

First, I finished radiation last Wednesday. After 28 sessions of daily nuclear warfare, I got a Certificate of Completion signed by all the staff at the radiation center, and Dr. Rad came out of an appointment with another patient to give me a hug. This was in stark contrast to the complete lack of acknowledgement I received at the oncology office for finishing chemo. Not a word. I will really miss these wonderful, caring people.

I actually had very mixed emotions when I left my final appointment. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to be done with treatment. Yet, a kind of sadness washed over me. I felt as though I’ve been treading water non-stop for 9 months, and the entire focus of my life has been staying strong and surviving. That final appointment was like I had finally been rescued and could collapse and let it all go. And let it all sink in. I tend to downplay the effect all this has had on me, but it has been a lot to endure. And, in that moment, I had to pause to grieve for what I’ve lost.

Here is a picture of my skin post-radiation. It looks a lot worse than it is; I’ve really only had some minor tenderness and itching as it heals. The new skin is coming through as the top layer sloughs off. I’ve put lotion on religiously, and I think it has paid off. My skin feels soft and smooth. I also want to stress the importance of stretching the irradiated area as much as possible to keep the scar tissue from taking hold underneath. It can get quite tight if it isn’t exercised.

Photo Dec 08, 10 10 10 AM

 

On Thursday, I went to the very posh and eclectic Red Stag Grill at the Bohemian Hotel in downtown Asheville with two friends, one of whom just had major surgery. I thought I was just tagging along to visit her and catch up, but she surprised me by turning it into a celebration lunch for the end of treatment. It was a wonderful treat. The restaurant has the feel of a formal hunting lodge, with dark woods and rich leather seats. The chandeliers appear to be made of antlers, which you’ll see in the picture below. I half expected to see Teddy Roosevelt come through the door and belly up to the bar.

Photo Dec 08, 8 48 44 PM

 

Friday brought a new beginning. I took the plunge and signed a lease for my chiropractic office space! Ironically, that is the name of my practice, New Beginnings Family Chiropractic. I chose that name years ago, having no idea what it would come to mean in my future. I’m very nervous and very excited. I want to offer holistic health care focusing on nutrition and supplementation in addition to chiropractic. I would really love to help people through the cancer journey and beyond.  I might fall flat on my face, but I owe it to myself to give it a shot. I now have a shiny set of gold office keys on my keychain.

Saturday night was spent at a large Christmas party at the home of a new friend. There was every kind of chip, dip, fruit, carved meat and appetizer you can imagine, and an open bar. The house was beautifully decorated for the holidays and had a very warm, inviting feel. There were several local bands who took turns playing informal gigs in the living room. The music ranged from Bluegrass to the Beatles to Christmas carols. What a perfect evening, sitting in a comfy chair with a glass of wine while being serenaded by candlelight.

Finally, today we took the kids to our local Farmer’s Market to pick out a Christmas tree. We’ve been getting our tree from the same family for almost 20 years, and they recognize us when we pull up. The patriarch of the family has aged quite a bit and has mostly turned the hard labor of the tree farming over to his sons now. He was in very poor health a couple of seasons ago, so we always breathe a sigh of relief when we see that he’s still around. Below is a shot of us together about four years ago.

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Tomorrow, it’s back to the grind at work. I’m looking forward to that like an impacted wisdom tooth. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 5 days, more so than I have in a long time. I stopped to smell those roses, and I felt content, and at peace.

I put “cancer-free” in quotation marks because that is an illusion. None of us is ever truly “free” of cancer. There are always micro-clusters of cancerous cell floating around in us, waiting for our immune systems to fall asleep at the wheel. Now that I’m “cancer-free”, the real work begins. I have to figure out why cancer set up shop in my body and how to keep that from happening again. All of these treatments have slowed the cancer down enough for me to have a fighting chance, now let’s get busy fighting!

Breast Cancer Christmas Carols

I would usually insert an 80’s CANCER JAM OF THE DAY here, but I have a special treat in store for you. Nothing captures the spirit of the holidays more than “The Twelve Months of Treatment”.  Who wants a partridge in a pear tree anyway?

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In the twelve months of treatment, breast cancer gave to me:

Twelve dates with Taxol,

Eleven flashes flashing,

Ten years of payments,

Nine nurses poking,

Eight pain meds I’m milking,

Seven different doctors,

Six weeks of burning,

Five years of Ta-mox-i-fen!

Four kinds of scans,

Three sur-ger-ies,

Two missing boobs,

And sep-sis from the port they put in me.

Can’t you just hear Bing Crosby in the background while you’re roasting those chestnuts? And no, I don’t really have 8 pain meds!