Kissing Your Sister
I think I should be feeling pretty excited right about now. I had a PET scan at MD Anderson on January 5th and on the 6th found out that it showed no distant metasisis and no cancer in the local area of my first two incidences of cancer. The only issue was a seroma at the site of my October surgery. My experience there was “a bit like kissing your sister”, as my dad put it. Good news on one hand, with a lot of caveats on the other. They were hesitant to say I’m cancer free, using the word remission instead. Three times they said, “there’s just no cancer we can see.” Also they said I have a higher risk of recurrence because they consider me to have been chemotherapy-resistant and because I had a recurrence during treatment. So I left there pretty much waiting for the other shoe to drop. Which is funny, because when all this started over a year ago no one could convince me I had cancer. Now I can’t seem to be convinced that I don’t.
Today I went to the breast surgeon to have the seroma drained. The surgeon did it in the office – she just put some lidocaine on the spot and with a sonogram to guide the needle she sucked out about 13cc’s of fluid. Now I have a divet under the skin where she took out about a melon-ball size of tissue in October. She said the seroma might recur and that she could drain it again if necessary. Other than that she pronounced me awesome. Even said I look cute today. So I should feel excited about that! But I don’t.
And I am normally the excited one. I’m usually like a golden retriever, going around hugging everyone exuberantly, pronouncing life grand at every turn. I’m not really in touch with that at this moment. I think it’s the side effects of chemo and ongoing drug therapies that are tainting my enthusiasm. For one thing, as I type this my fingers are hurting. They hurt all the time. The ones on the right hand hurt in an arthritic way, the ones on the left are suffering from neuropathy brought on by drugs and lymphedema. My chest is throbbing, my left arm is throbbing and I’m tired. Tired to my bones. And my mood stinks. I have even done things to try to elevate my mood, like meditate, walk in the sunshine, see friends. It’s all a little tarnished at the moment.
Drug side-effects are awful. I see why women stop taking their maintenance meds. I had a friend that died of breast cancer. She wasn’t a best friend that I had intimate talks with, but I loved her and sat in many bible studies with her. Our kids played together. She had breast cancer, went into remission, and then it came back. After she passed another friend told me that the friend that had died had quit taking Tamoxifen and wondered if that’s why her cancer came back. I can see, even after only two months on these estrogen-inhibitors, why women would choose roulette with their lives over taking these damn drugs. Don’t worry, I’m not ready to gamble yet, but I have a forever deep well of compassion for those that say “fuck it” and don’t take them. They affect your mood, your joints, your libido, and they cause weight gain. I gained five-eight pounds in one month on them (Depending on which scale you believe). And some of the side-effects, like arthritis, stick around even when you get off the drug. I’m currently on Femara but am probably going to switch to Tamoxifen, hoping for fewer side effects.
And the lymphedema. It sucks. And I don’t even have that bad of a case. If you look at my left arm and my right you would probably think they look the same. But they aren’t. The left one throbs. Did you know that people who give you a chuck on the shoulder or pinch on the arm ALWAYS do it on the left? I’m thinking of getting a shirt that says “Don’t touch my left arm!” I have actually had the thought, “I wonder if they could just amputate if this gets really bad?” It’s not a good sign when discomfort brings the thought of removing the offending limb. There are no lymphedema physical therapists in McKinney, and none that I can find anywhere that take Medicaid. So I have to go to Plano and pay $100/session to get relief. Which I will do but I’m thinking that our community can do better than that!
I’m sure I’ll find some joy around here. I know that what I give my attention to will expand. Now that I’ve gotten this rotten stuff out maybe I’ll have more space for joy and warm fuzzies.
The definition of remission is a period of time during which symptoms of a disease are reduced (partial) or undetectable (complete). Nobody knows if I’ll be in remission a month or fifty years. If I’ve learned nothing else from this cancer trip it’s that I need to squeeze everything from every moment in order to be free. So for this moment I’ll squeeze out the discomfort, anger, distrust, pain and foggy-headedness, be grateful that I am alive to feel all those powerful emotions and call it a day!