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.