About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thoughts on my last chemo eve

Tomorrow marks a date on the calendar that I have looked forward to since August.  December 3rd.  My sixth and final round of chemotherapy.

I have mixed emotions about it.  Yes, I am thrilled to have it behind me. It will be a celebration, to be sure.  Pardon the crude expression, but chemo sucks.  It affects your body and mind, inside and out.  It affects every aspect of your life and your family's life.  Weekends and holidays lose meaning.  Dates, birthdays, anniversaries and events are only important as how it relates to chemo.  You are unable to participate in all of your kids' events like you used to.  Even if you feel okay, which I have been blessed to have been a surprising amount of time, you look like a sick person.  Bald, thin or no eyebrows or eyelashes. You get looks from friends and strangers alike when they don't think you can see them. You can see when people are shocked or taken aback just by seeing you. On some faces, you see the looks of pity.  Which sometimes makes you feel worse.  Not always, but sometimes.

On the other hand, there is a bizarre kind of security in being in chemotherapy.  You are doing something actively to fight the disease. It may be wiping you out, but you are fighting back.  With chemo over, the waiting begins.  Will the cancer come back? Was it enough chemo? Was the chemo effective on the cells?  Because I had surgery first, I have no real way of knowing for sure.  If I had chemo first, we would know if those drugs shrunk the tumor.  On the other hand, we got the known cancer out so I feel good in that decision of timing. Did we use the right drug combination?  It is a little like I felt in the beginning of this experience when we just didn't know what we were dealing with.  I feel a little like we are coming full circle. Is the cancer there?  We just don't know.

This is where I guess one must simply walk by faith and trust that whatever happens, is what God has in store for the ultimate good.

I had an appointment with Dr. P, the oncologist, today.  I asked him about where we go after treatment.  He wants to see me in four months, and then we will go to every six months.  Obviously, I can't have mammograms.  So how do we screen for the cancer coming back?   I wasn't very reassured by his answer.  Remember, this is a research type guy.  He's really smart and knows his stuff.  He may not have the best bedside manner, but we have developed a rapport over the past few months.  Even so, he doesn't sugar coat or spare any unnecessary words.  He said he does not like to do scans because they lead to a lot of false positives.  My gut would rather have a false positive than not catch cancer earlier.

The bottom line he said was that if the cancer comes back, its not going to be curable. Not those exact words, but he did use the words, "not curable."   Thud.   Punch me in the gut, why don't you, doc?  If it comes back, it will have moved to either an organ or the bones. It isn't the kind of thing that would kill me right away.  They have treatments and therapies to help you live with it for as long as possible. But he put my darkest fear into words and it was out there in the room.

In my case, he has observed that I am a health conscious person.  I exercise a lot and have good body awareness.  I can tell if there is "something wrong."  In some ways, its true.  On the other hand, I had no clue about having breast cancer until I felt the cancerous lymph node in May.  Breast cancer was so far off my radar screen.  Now it is smack dab in the middle of it.  So maybe that will be enough of a red flag to seek an exam.  He told me that I should keep in mind that we are throwing everything at this cancer that we can, so I can "put that in my back pocket."

I still don't feel that comfortable with the situation.  But I suppose every person who has gone through cancer therapy feels that way.  I can look on the bright side...I still have radiation to go through.  So there is more fight left to fight.  I'll be on tamoxifen for at least 2 years starting in late December/early January.  In 2 years, we'll test my estrogen levels to see if my ovaries have resumed making estrogen.  At my age (41), the menopause I'm experiencing may go away.  Lucky me, I'll get to do it again later on.  If I am post-menopausal, then they can move me to another class of drugs with a smaller dose and less side effects.  I'm grateful to have a type of cancer that is receptive to this hormonal therapy.  It's another security blanket.

There are other things I can do to prevent the cancer from coming back. Lifestyle things like keeping my weight down (another incentive), eating right, and limiting alcohol.  The more I learn about the health risks of being overweight, the more annoyed I am with myself that I let it go for so long. At least now I'm near my ideal weight.  After all of the treatment is over next spring, I'd like to drop at least another 10 pounds.  I would hate to have to lose the 50 pounds that I lost last year now. That was another way God prepared me for this trial.

Anyway, that is the jumbled mess of my thoughts tonight as I await my last infusion of taxotere and cytoxan. ("TC" in cancer treatment parlance.)   The bottom line is that while I am thankful for this phase of the journey to be over, I am reluctant to let this toxic lifeline go.

My prayer requests:

  • That my final round of chemo go smoothly tomorrow. That I tolerate it well and that the drugs do the job they are supposed to do. 
  • That I be able to put my fears aside and walk by faith.  I know that God already knows the number of my days. It doesn't do me any good to worry about it, and by worrying I'm not having faith.  Fear is the opposite of faith.  I want to live by faith, not fear.  Pray that I not "go there" in my mind. 
  • For complete healing.  That there be no cancer cells in my body anywhere.  


  1. Congrats on reaching the end of this phase - I know it's a bit of a weird spot. When I finally finished my chemo/rads/chemo, 9 yrs ago, I was sure I would want to celebrate. I was glad to be done, but also freaked out a little. Taking a daily pill or doing healthy things doesn't feel the same as active treatment. When you're going for chemo, you know that you are fighting with every fiber of your being. When it's done, it's hard to feel that same fight. But you are fighting. As long as there is hope in you, you are still fighting.

    And I know those frank talks with the onc are hard. Mine was that way, too, & I'm really glad he was. If I know what I'm up against, no matter how scary it is, I can make a plan.... And then somehow, here it is, 10 yrs next summer.

    This transition may be kind of freaky at times, but just deal with it the same way you've gotten this far.

    And just think - you now have new hair to look forward to:)

  2. Finishing up chemo was terrifying for me for exactly the same reason you've written about. I had A LOT of positive nodes. I was also triple negative (translation: no targeted therapy available for me). I was grateful for the radiation even though it was annoying going every day - I used it for prayer time and that was incredibly helpful. I heard the same crap about scans from one of my two oncologists and now I spend more time with the OTHER oncologist who knows the benefit that the peace of mind a clean scan offers someone like me (and you) and I've had several scans and I am grateful for every one as they let me breathe easier every so often. My next scan is a breast MRI in January (having implants gives me the excuse to get that one) and then in August will be my next PET scan (last one was September), etc. On 12/15 is the one-year anniversary of my final chemo (of which I had a total of 8 cycles over 12 doses). The day of my last dose was so emotional and yours will be too. I was afraid to leave the doctor's office. I wanted to go back every day just for the secure feeling it gave me being there knowing we were fighting actively. I even went and visited (with no scheduled appointment) several times for a while there. I don't do that anymore. You've done a fantastic job, Tonya. You are healthy and strong and are doing all the right things. That's all we can do besides live our lives and pray. xoxo Congrats on getting through this stage of the journey. You're an inspiration to many.