Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist 2

 

 

image

 

Here’s an idea for those out-of-work surgeons in a tough economy. What a concept! One truck does it all. No hauling jobs today? No problem! The bed of the truck converts to a mini operating theater for vasectomies on the fly. (Ha Ha, get it? On the fly!) I saw this truck the other day at a downtown garden festival. ???

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

315

I seriously debated using this photograph, and one day my daughter will kill me. But, imagine my surprise when I walked in the bathroom to see my 2 1/2 year-old princess on her cushioned Dora potty seat reading about steering conversions for a monster jeep. Her Dad was so proud!

Girl Interrupted

image

I feel a little guilty writing this post. Many of the other entries I’ve read tonight have been about recovery. About new beginnings, rediscovering the joys of friends and work, and just getting back to normal after the long battle with breast cancer. I feel like I’m supposed to capitalize somehow on the life-changing experience that I’ve had. But lately I’m just stuck.

Physically, I’m on track. I eat pretty well. I exercise several times per week. I take all the right supplements. But emotionally, I’m doing the exact same things that made me unhappy, and angry, and resentful. I’m an intelligent person. I just can’t seem to figure out how to change things that should have been changed long ago. And I know that all of those bottled up emotions played a role in my illness.

I think a big part of my hesitation in acting is that I no longer trust myself to have a valid feeling. Thanks to the hormonal upheaval of chemo, my mood bounces around like a ping-pong ball from one day to the next. I swear I wake up each morning not knowing who will show up, the easygoing,funny, optimistic girl I used to be or the down-in-the-dumps menopausal hag who would rather live in a cave with tissues and sad songs.

While I am exaggerating my mood swings, you can see how difficult and frightening it would be to make any life-changing decisions in this turmoil. “Did I decide that because I was hormonally imbalanced that week, or did I really feel it was the best thing?”.

I actually picked up a prescription for an anti-depressant today. The last time I took an SSRI for post-partum “blues”, it took me six years to extricate myself from the grip it had on me. Not to mention I gained 25 pounds that wouldn’t budge no matter what. I didn’t lose that weight until I quit taking the magic pill. So trust me when I say that this is not an exciting prospect, and I’m not sure I’ll actually do it. The optimist in me still has hope that another solution will appear.

The kicker of the whole situation is that I know exactly what the problem is. And it isn’t depression. It’s lack of estrogen. Estrogen stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain and has actually been used successfully as an anti-depressant by itself. The one thing that would really help me is forbidden. What a cruel dilemma.

Intuitively, however, I do realize that there are certain problems which existed long before I was hormonally challenged. Relationships that are either one-sided or emotionally stunted, a job that drains my energy, a strong penchant for people-pleasing…not exactly a recipe for health. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to change the things we know are wrong. Why is it so terrifying to take a leap of faith? Sometimes it seems that we’d rather live for decades in familiar unhappiness than to risk the pain of the unknown.

So, while I may be doing “all the right things” to prevent a cancer recurrence, in many ways I feel that I’m almost inviting it by default. I need to find the courage, somewhere, to stand up for myself and be fully alive, even if it means facing those demons that I’ve been avoiding for so long. But who knows, next week I might change my mind.

 

 

Well, I’ll Be Damned, She’s Back!

female warrior

I never thought I’d say that. The doctors seemed so certain, case closed, seen it a million times before. But that just goes to show, my body doesn’t fit  neatly into a mold created by modern medicine. She plays by her own rules, always has. And just when I get used to the idea of “what is supposed to happen now”, the agenda changes. But I should have known better. My body is a fighter.

One of the perils (or perks, depending on your point of view) of getting invasive breast cancer in your forties is the near certainty that menopause will follow chemotherapy. As my oncologist told me, “Don’t worry, your ovaries will be dead soon.” I fired him not long after that comment, oh, and the sepsis that he thought could wait until morning.

For a while, he was right. My last cycle was in June of 2013, before my lovely tango with Taxol began in July. My ovaries went into hiding like two frightened puppies under a blanket during a fierce thunderstorm. Except for a brief period earlier this year that I chalked up to experimenting with some hormones (bad girl!), I have been effectively menopausal for nearly a year. Hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, weight gain, you name it, I’ve experienced it.

So, imagine my surprise when my monthly visitor came last Saturday. I had been in a horrible mood the week before, and I felt very crampy and bloated, but I just thought I was receiving yet more exciting menopause bonus gifts. Then I worried. One thing that breast cancer steals is your ability to just brush things off. Once active treatment ends, every pain, every headache, and every symptom that once would have been “normal” creates a small sense of panic.

Added to my fear was the fact that I’ve been using Estriol cream to offset the unpleasant sexual side effects of low estrogen (which works very well, by the way). This is not exactly sanctioned by my oncologist. Ok, not at all. I’ve done a lot of research, and Estriol doesn’t seem to cause growth of the uterine lining the way estradiol does, but there are always exceptions. So, as the spotting lingered on, my mind went to the possibility of uterine cancer. I called my gynecologist.

I had my appointment this morning with Dr. M, another wonderful doctor that I’ve been lucky enough to find. Just to let you know how unusual she is, she once called me from her cell phone on vacation to warn me against seeing the breast surgeon that I had originally chosen. It turned out that she had done her residency under him and saw him cut corners that put patients lives in jeopardy. No one would ever have known this because he is incredibly charming and prays with his patients, and they adore him. I can’t tell you what that meant to me.

Dr. M wasn’t particularly worried. She smiled at me and said, “I think you’re just menstruating.”

“But the oncologist told me I was done.”

“They say that all the time, but I see women get their periods back at your age. Now you really need to think about contraception.”

“Huh?” In the space of five minutes, I went from a menopausal crone to a woman with a cycle who needs to worry about getting pregnant. It must be the hair. When I went to Florida last month, I saw a fabulous hairstylist who erased my silver locks and made me a bithcin’ blonde. My body must have just taken notice of this turn of events and decided that we’re younger now.

Dr. M didn’t flinch when I told her about the Estriol. She said that she didn’t think that would cause bleeding using it only twice per week, but we’re waiting to see what happens. She told me that if the cycles didn’t have a pattern, or the spotting didn’t stop soon, to give her a call and she would order an ultrasound.

I guess I’ll have to take back all of the feminine products I moved to my daughter’s bathroom months ago. I know I should be freaking out that I have enough estrogen to restart a menstrual cycle, but in a strange way, I’m kind of tickled. My body is rebelling against the months of insults that have been hurled at it and trying to regain balance. In my opinion, that’s pretty awesome.

Weekly Photo Challenge: On The Move

036

God sent me an angel,

with wobbly legs for wings.

To heal a cruel and gaping wound

that Fate was soon to bring.

With every toothless smile

and every soggy kiss,

You wove our souls together,

and taught my heart new bliss.

Now it’s time to find your feet;

each step feels like a mile.

You look back for reassurance;

I put on my bravest smile.

Keep trying little angel,

with determination strong.

I will be your savior,

As you’ve been mine all along.

 

 

 

And We Close The Chapter on Tamoxifen…Farewell

image

I know I’ve devoted a great deal of time and space these past few weeks to the agonizing decision of whether or not to take the hormone blocker Tamoxifen as the final piece of my breast cancer treatment. Frankly, I’m as tired of thinking about it as you are of reading it, so you’ll be glad to know that something happened yesterday that allowed me to put the subject to rest.

I was sitting at my kitchen table, browsing through some blog posts and dreading my afternoon oncology appointment with every bone in my body. I had already postponed the appointment for 2 weeks because I was not looking forward to being scolded about the Tamoxifen…again. Now, scold is a harsh word when it comes to my doctor. He is about as threatening as a teddy bear wrapped in velvet sitting on clouds.

No, I think I was really dreading….the look. You know the one. Like your favorite grandparent who catches you doing something wrong and doesn’t spank you. That would be too easy. Instead, they sit you down, their head hanging with the weight of their disappointment, and tell you that they never would have expected this of you…and it hurts them that you would do such a thing. By the end of the lecture, you feel like the lowest of the low, and you’ll do anything to get back in their good graces.

That’s how I felt after our last appointment. I came in ready to fight, ready to bring in research and statistics to back my argument. And I left in a haze of confusion and shame. I even went to the drugstore and filled the prescription. I couldn’t bear to let Dr. A down. He cares so much; it’s palpable.

So, back to yesterday. I hopped over to one of my absolute favorite blogs, chrisbeatcancer.com. He was diagnosed at 26 with Stage 3 colon cancer and refused chemo and radiation, choosing to heal himself through nutrition. He is now an eleven year survivor who lectures around the country and offers much of his wisdom for free on his site. I’ve visited many times before, but this video struck a chord in me for some reason.

I’ve been somewhat beaten down by the medical establishment over the past year, and I’ve started to compromise my core beliefs. Namely, The belief that our bodies are designed to express health, not sickness. Yes, there are genetic aberrations, environmental insults, etc. that challenge us, but this is not destiny. We can radically transform the terrain inside the body by the way we treat ourselves. Proper nutrition, sleep, stress management, and healthy relationships are essential to disease prevention.

Chris is a very articulate, warm person who expresses these ideals perfectly. I am in no way against doctors or medicine when it is necessary, but the whole “fear culture” surrounding cancer puts so much pressure on patients to “go with the flow” or face dire consequences. Take Tamoxifen, for example. In my case, the statistics show that I have a 12% reduction in recurrence over the next 10 years if I take the drug. The mortality reduction is about half that.

For these slight statistical improvements, I will endure hot flashes, night sweats, depression, fatigue, joint pains, weight gain, and the possibility of aggressive uterine cancer, blood clots, and cataracts, or worse. There are very, very few people who have pleasant tales to share about this drug. And the kicker is.. the research will show that Tamoxifen is not curing cancer, but rather putting it to sleep. And it almost always finds a way to get around this “trance” eventually.

So..yesterday I had what could almost be described as a revelation. I found my convictions once again and decided that my body is not suffering from a Tamoxifen deficiency. I plan to do a hard core re-examination of my life and change the things that need changing. I went in to the doctor’s office, ready to defend my decision once again. Dr. A must have seen the look of determination in my eyes. He asked if I was taking the Tamoxifen. When I explained why I wasn’t, he simply looked at me and said, “Ok.”

I think that in a way he knows he is asking a lot of women, but he feels that it is his duty to try. I wouldn’t be surprised if he even has a sliver of doubt about the standard treatment in his most private moments. As for me, the Tamoxifen train has left the station, and I’m at peace as I wave goodbye.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring!

 

 

 

 

Backyard_Altered

Tentative, I poke my head out of my cave,

hoping with familiar desperation

to feel the warm caress of sunshine on my cheek.

The light hurts my eyes

after months of brutal hibernation.

But as I turn my face toward the sky

to greet the Spring,

I know that my soul will be healed.