Tag Archives: chemo

A Not So Good Day

The good news is that my blood counts were fine and I was able to get Vinorelbine yesterday!

The bad news is that I came home and barfed!

My nurses think it was more likely due to adjusting to Big Daddy + empty stomach + coughing/gagging than the chemo.  Nonetheless, totally gross and uncalled-for.  I slept for about an hour before heading back to the hospital for the brain MRI.  Not easy in my state (but still, what a wonder that lying still in a space capsule while being assaulted by the sound of various pavement-smashing construction tools for approximately 40 minutes delivers a picture of my brain!)  Then home again and weak and exhausted.  And so depressed. That’s the thing, it all just wears you out.

Altogether not a good day.  A completely crap day, in fact.  But I had a better sleep last night and am staying on top of the pain today.  I’m still weak – but I have high hopes for the vinorelbine to begin working its magic again like it did last week.  Also, helping out on the emotional front, my dad is back in town and my cousin from the U.K. showed up for a quick visit, which has boosted my spirits as it always does when we see each other (which is far too rarely.) Although I have to admit, we’d both prefer the traditional pub visit to this bedside visit nonsense. 

Meanwhile my husband and mother (aka: The Executive Committee) have decided that my only job is to eat as much as I possibly can – and super-clean anti-cancer diet be damned.  All that rice and miso soup and seaweed might be good for me, but the pounds were dropping and bones are beginning to stick out where they ought not.  It was a supermodel diet and I wasn’t a particularly fleshy woman to begin with, so the effect was not that desirable.  Besides, seaweed?  Please, it’s enough to make anyone nauseated.  So, the new rule is if I want pizza, I get pizza.  (I don’t want pizza, but I do want pasta… mmm, yes, the fusilli from the Italian place down the street!) My cravings are varied and my appetite sporadic, but I’m eating.

And now, we wait for the results of the MRI.  How do you stay hopeful and optimistic while at the same time steel yourself for the worst?  Can it be done?  The CT scan was clear.  That must count for something.

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The Narrow

Still exhausted and weak but now capable of being vertical for short periods. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you — your words carried me and comforted me.  As did my mother, my dearest friends, my family, and my incredibly incredible husband.  Everyone managed to hold me together, distract Georgia, feed and water me (despite my protests), prop me up, tuck me in and generally get me through.  Their care and your messages reached me through the fog of fear and pain and reminded me that when I fall I can stay down for a while.  And then I can come back up swinging. I’m not lacing up my boxing gloves just yet, but at least I’m eyeing the ring again.

My husband on the other hand seems to be in full swing.  Today he woke up and left the house early for an unscheduled confab with my oncologist.  By 10:30 I was having a CT scan of my brain, by noon, bloodwork, and a couple hours later, chemo. It’s the one we were holding in reserve, vinorelbine, and my oncologist made special arrangements to get it administered today so that I can still go to Detroit tomorrow.  And I am going to Detroit tomorrow, oh yes I am. If I have to be carried into the car and out again at the other end, I’m going.

My uncooperative and obstinate cancer may not respond to this chemo — given its history of response to standard treatments — but then again, it may. Even if it slows down just a little bit, it will be worth it.

This chemo may also get me disqualified from the Detroit study, but then again, it may not. My family, my oncologist and I all agreed that we have to take that chance; I simply can’t go another 5 weeks without trying some kind of treatment.  Some kind of something.

So, even though I am typing this with one hand and only one eye open while lying down in a vegetal state with an excruciating, pounding headache, I am actually feeling better.  All is not lost.  There is action, so there is hope. 

And best of all? The CT scan showed that my brain is CLEAR!!!  I was warned not to get too excited since an MRI will be required to be sure that there is nothing evil lurking in the neuro-spaghetti, and of course those pesky “auras” and headaches still need to be explained… but don’t get too excited about a clear brain scan??? That’s a tall order, given the shortage of good news around here.  How about just being incredibly relieved and grateful that today at least I don’t have to reckon with cancer in my brain.  Today, and maybe a few more days.  Maybe lots more days.

Yes, I can hope, and I try to.  But yesterday I met with my cancer shrink whose horrific job it was to tell me that I also need to recognize that this cancer is crashing through every obstacle we put in its way, and the reality is that maybe nothing — no treatments or trials or anything we can throw at at it — will stop it from killing me.  My amazing cancer shrink who by the way I truly believe is one of those rare people who is doing what he was put on this earth to do (he really is that good at it.) Unfortunately this is what he was put on the earth to say to me yesterday.  

Not that I hadn’t already recognized it and begun to wrestle with it on my own, and with my family and friends.  But when your shrink tells it to you… ouch.  Holy Moses, it’s real.  It’s moments like those that you realize this isn’t one of those nightmares you get to wake up from. It’s moments like those when the world freezes and you feel like you have just glimpsed the way the whole thing works but it doesn’t matter anyway because all you want to do is love the people you love and live the life you love living… except maybe you won’t get to do that anymore. 

What do you do at a moment like that?  I just cried big fat gigantic splashing tears, and when they slowed down enough that I could look him in the eye I said, “My god. I’d really f**king hate to have your job right now.”

So this is where I am.  This is where my family and I have to live right now: on this razor’s edge, this impossibly narrow place right smack between the terrifying reality that perhaps nothing can stop me from dying from this cancer, and the slim shiny hope of a clear brain scan and a meeting in Detroit.

And so far, the only way I have found to stay sane while living in this narrow place is to say it to myself every day, several times a day, and many times throughout the night: 

but what if it works?

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I’d Rather Be Eating Chocolate

If Forrest Gump says life is like a box of chocolates, I say chemo is like a row of cubicles in a public washroom: You never know what nasty surprises you might find when those doors swing open – but when you gotta go, you gotta go. Alas, my most recent round of treatment was more like opening a cubicle door in a bus terminal ladies’ room than one in a high-end restaurant. In a word: vile.

The truth is, I was caught off-guard by the nastiness of this chemo. My previous two rounds with it had actually gone fairly well (relative to just how unwell chemo can go) and when asked I would say, “This isn’t the worst chemo I’ve met.”

But, to mercilessly belabour this toilet analogy, even if you’ve previously visited a particular public washroom before, there are no guarantees you’ll find it in the same condition you did the last time you were there.  In other words, just because I’d had a fairly good run at this chemo before, it didn’t mean I could expect it to go well again.  It’s a, well… a crapshoot.

So this time around the nausea has been aggressive, as were the flu-like symptoms for the first few days. But the worst and weirdest of all is a super-intense back pain behind my right shoulder. It feels like I have a little knife lodged there, and every time I cough it twists in a little deeper.  It started Friday morning with a sharp pinch on my right side every time I hack-hacked, or bark-barked.  By late afternoon I was clutching my side and doubling over a bit with every cough. By bedtime, the pain had intensified, migrated around back and set up permanent residence, and I was sleeping with a heating pad under my right side.

It seems that my evil cough, not content to torment me with mere anxiety and irritation, has now added physical pain to its roster of tricks.  So I cough on, and while the pain isn’t unbearable, it does make me stop, clutch, bend, and brace myself with every hack-hack or bark-bark. But the real problem is the psychology: every time I cough and the knife twists deeper, I’m acutely aware of my illness.  Instead of being able to amble through my days without having to think about cancer all the time, symptoms like this one serve as a little cancer reminder every few minutes.

I don’t like this. Denial is one of my oldest and trustiest friends.  Moving through my daily life without having every waking thought coloured by cancer is a state of being I’ve come to depend on for my sanity. When side effects and symptoms are front and centre (or around back to the right, behind the shoulder blade) the psychological effect of constantly being reminded that I have cancer is compounded by physical pain and discomfort… and frankly it stinks.  Really, it does.  Please don’t tell me to keep my chin up, either. You can grin and bear it, I’m going to slink around muttering obscenities and popping pills.  

On the other hand, I may just be imagining the link between my cough and my cancer.  I say this because when I discussed my worsening cough with my oncologist last Thursday before treatment, I found out that the prevailing theory continues to be that the cough hasn’t really corresponded to “progression of disease.” In other words, it has sometimes been present when no lung specks were visible on CT scans, and at other times it hasn’t bothered me much even though scans showed progression of spots or specks – so it’s hard to reason that the cough is definitely tied to the cancer.  There is still a strong belief that it could be caused by lung irritation due to something as banal as post-nasal drip (i.e.: my constantly runny nose) which itself was caused by long-term chemo side effects. Therefore, so goes the rather optimistic prevailing theory, I shouldn’t worry too much about the cough, at least not until or unless the results of my upcoming CT scan on February 23rd give me reason to. 

Okay… Still hurts though, so what’s a girl to do? Maybe if I can block out the psychological stuff, the physical experience might be more bearable. Like facing a disgusting public toilet in a desperate situation, you just hold your breath and get through it, with your eye on the prize and your nose plugged. 

Yikes. Would so much rather be dealing with the chocolates. 

  

*Ladies: A quick word, please, while I have your attention, on the matter of hovering or sitting on pubic toilet seats.  Before I had a little girl I didn’t have to think about it –  hovering was my default, whether five-star establishment or basement dive. But now that I have to actually place Georgia’s pristine backside on those seats, let’s discuss.  One hovers to avoid sitting in a nasty pee-splashed bacteria-ridden mess, right?  But consider:  how did it get pee-splashed in the first place?  I’d wager it got that way from careless hovering.  If you find it splashed-upon, go ahead and hover, but if you find it clean and you hover, you MUST wipe.  Careless hovering perpetuates the need for hovering.  If (as the saying goes) you sprinkle when you tinkle, I beg you to give it a wipe. Please, for Georgia’s sake.

 

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Puppy Love

As long and exhausting as my day at the hospital was Thursday, there were some pretty nice perks to make it more manageable. The Day Chemo ward, it turned out, was so overloaded trying to catch up on missed days over the holidays that I was told I would be moved to a bed in a private room on another floor. Did someone say Private Room?  Hello, yes please! Not that I don’t love the social atmosphere and familiar faces in the Day Chemo clinic, but I was tired and had an long day ahead of me so I welcomed the prospect of solitude and sleep – my mom was all the company I needed.  Plus, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a little extra pampering?

My smart nurse, Roz, probably knew all this when she sent me down to what, after about 15 minutes, I came to refer to as Hotel Chemo. (Or, because it rhymed with my nurse’s name, Chez José.) My five-star experience included: a comfy bed in a quiet place, a door that closed, lights that dimmed, a hot meal (well, okay, I declined the hospital food and my mom went on a food run), fantastic care from a great nurse (this is actually the norm no matter which floor I’m on), and …wait for it… a visit from the therapist pictured below:

Differently to other therapists I’ve encountered, this one is very cuddly. Zoe snuggled right up with me and just hung out on her little towel on my bed, keeping me company for a while before making the rounds of the in-patient oncology ward.  Can you imagine?  She’s just this little furry ball of sweetness out to make people smile.

I had never heard of this before –  this “pet therapy” – but it’s really a nice thing. Here is the website if you want to learn more about these caring canines: http://www.tpoc.ca It’s amazing the comfort a little puppy love can provide.

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Postponing the Pity Party

It was a long, long day at the hospital yesterday and I am totally knackered.  I came home and rested a bit and then my husband and Georgia stormed the premises, but thank god Georgia’s godmother came over too, to help wrangle the Whirlwind.  The Whirlwind was actually in quite the difficult mood – she was certainly not going to be nominated for any behavioural awards last night – and that’s enough to wear you out on any day, let alone one that involved seven hours at the hospital. In fact, we’re pretty sure last night put the godmother’s child-bearing plans back by at least six months…

Nonetheless we managed; we made it through dinner and bedtime without too much additional drama. Very shortly after Georgia was tucked in for the night, I too said good night and headed up to bed.  As I was climbing the stairs I had one of those thoughts – the kind that have the power to bring you right down and leave you smack in the middle of darkness and devastation if you let them:  “When did this become my life?  How did I get here — to this life full of cancer and exhaustion and sickness and stress — from that charmed, beautiful life full of privilege and blessings…?”

This is known as a Pity Party. Or as the start of one.  It can spiral right out of control, leading to tears and trauma. Orrrr, you can snuff it out like an offensively over-scented votive candle.

It’s not that it’s not all true:  I did lead an extraordinarily happy and blessed life — not one totally devoid of challenges and pain, but pretty darn good all around, pretty much right up until I got hit with the cancer stick. Yet despite appearances, I kind of think my life continues to be incredibly good. I may not be the luckiest person alive, but I have a really good life.  And it turns out that some rather previously-unimaginable blessings have come from this experience of having cancer.  (For more on this, you can refer to earlier posts questioning the idea of cancer as a “gift.”  I’ll save you the suspense: I don’t believe for a second that cancer in itself is a gift, but it does bring with it some undeniable silver linings.) 

Anyway, I had just reached the top of the stairs when another voice interrupted the Pity Party Planner’s escalating lament, “When did my beautiful life turn into this constant, unending battle…blah blah blah…” with a firm “Well, it may not look as rose-coloured as once it did, but it is still your life.  And it’s actually not a bad one.  Have you seen Haiti lately?  How’d you like to pull your child out of the rubble?  Get a grip. You’ve got cancer and you have to live with it.  Live being the operative word.”

It can be such a ball-buster, that other voice of mine.  But it certainly did the trick.  Snapped me right out of my downward-spiraling, woe-is-me mood. By the time I was brushing my teeth, I was thinking back at our warm, familial evening and the love and laughter that flowed so easily in and around the eddies and crests of Georgia’s hooliganism; at our delicious dinner of take-out Japanese food in our great house, and the conversations and connections on a million levels between we three old friends; even at Georgia’s absolute certainty of her rightful place at the centre of the universe.  Just before switching off the bathroom light I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I had a half-smile on my face — I knew it was true: my life is still blessed. A bit chaotic, battle-scarred, and full of dramatic ups and downs, but definitely still blessed, at least by my measure.

Pity Party postponed.  That other party, the celebration? Definitely still on.

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The Invisi-Brow? Been There, Done That

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail featured a preview of the upcoming trends for 2001 in its Style section.  Generally – not being of the mind that style and trendiness are synonymous – I could give two flying hoots about the latest trends. In fact, as I read about the “…cheeky bras over t-shirts…” gracing the runways, all I could think was, Will you please give me a break? Do I want to look like I have underwear dyslexia?

But I was reading the Style page for a reason: because when I picked up the paper, something caught my eye.  Or my eyebrow, I should say.  The banner on the front page encouraged me to check out the Style section to “get set for the year of the invisi-brow.”  Yes, the invisi-brow. As in, no eyebrows.  Models, apparently, are bleaching or otherwise disappearing the fuzzy little caterpillars that reside above each eye in what is giddily billed as “surely the edgiest make-up trend of the season.”  Yeah, okay… or, Surely the most inane, pointless and desperate trend of the season.  (Followed closely by those cheeky bras over t-shirts.)

What to expect next from these daring denizens of the fashion world? The year of the plucked-out eyelashes? Perhaps a celebration of the bikini-ready chemo-zillian, just in time for beach season? (Actually I confess: that one I did count as a cancer perk…saved so much money on waxing!) I feel like writing to the Style reporters to inform them that, avante garde trend-setter that I clearly am, last year was my own personal “year of the invisi-brow” and frankly, it completely sucked.

Or, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong; maybe I’m just bitter because last year when I was bald and blinking dust out of my lash-less, brow-less eyes, nobody thought it was particularly chic. Perhaps I should cut this little clip out of the paper and pass it around the chemo ward on Thursday for all my browless chemo compadres and see what they think. After all, having the fashion world declare a common chemo side effect edgy and desirable might make people feel better about hair loss, if only in that one localized area.  

And anyway, I should be looking for silver linings: it’s entirely possible I’ll be joining the hairless ranks once again – I’m shedding like a husky in July. Though I cringe and get a little teary-eyed at the mere prospect of losing my hair and having that bald cancer-face stare back at me from the mirror again (telling me every day how sick I am) if it must be, so be it.  Time will tell.  If I go bald, at least I know I’ll endure it.  Hell, I may even figure out a way to own it this time – anything to avoid it owning me again. 

Encouragingly, my oncologist says it’s unlikely I’ll lose my hair completely, but she’s not cleaning my hairbrush every day, or seeing my pillow every morning… Mind you, I’ve got lots of it, so I count myself lucky; with what I’ve lost so far, some people would already be dealing with rather barren cranial terrain.  

At least I’ve still got my thick, sumptuous, decidedly visible eyebrows – and trendy or not, I want them to stay exactly where they are.

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Long Day Ahead

Well, clearly this crowd loves to party!  The RSVPs are great – keep ‘em coming, we’ve got a guest list to tally and waive around in cancer’s face!  Also, it looks like we’ll be needing to up the tequila order.

Speaking of poisons and elixers, I am off to chemo again tomorrow.  This new schedule is a two-weeks-on /one-week-off cycle, where I get both gemcitabine and cisplatin one week, just gemcitabine the next, and a week off before repeating the cycle.  The cisplatin + gemcitabine day is tomorrow, and it’s a looooong one because they have to dose me up with so much fluid and diuretic to protect my kidneys. This is because “cisplatin can be incredibly hard on your kidneys.”  I love it when they say things like that. Another recent favourite was that “these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.”  When my doctor told me that I said “Pardon me?”  She didn’t get it.

So, my schedule tomorrow begins at the clinic at 8AM and involves a lot of IV action until about 4PM.  Then I go home and, instead of crashing, I run rampant and eat everything in sight, since I’ll be hopped up on steroids. A day or two later, after the steroids wear off and the side effects begin to kick in, then I crash. And how!

But I don’t mind.  My friend Libby had inoperable pancreatic cancer and this combination of drugs erased it.  Knocked it down to the point where they could in fact operate and, yes, she spent six hours on the operating table getting rid of the scraps, but the point is that she got rid of it.  All of it. More than a year ago. I don’t know about you but I’m impressed.  Also hopeful.

Eight hours in the chemo ward may not be anybody’s idea of a great day, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a day well spent. Bring it, I say.

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A Cancer Primer

A friend of mine recently told me that when I talk about cancer, she gets a little lost in all the medical terminology and references to different kinds of treatments.  It’s a slippery slope, and I can see now that I have slid it. To make amends for my spouting of esoteric mumbo jumbo, herewith, a Cancer Primer:

 

Cancer Strong contender for Most Terrifying Word in the English language; also known as the C-Word, the Darth Vadar of disease, and “the little word with the big stink.”  Meaning: A disease that involves abnormal or uncontrolled cell division.  Basically your good cells get overtaken and/or crowded out by bad cells.  This doesn’t happen because you did something wrong, no matter what anyone including that nasty little voice in your head tries to tell you.

Metastatic Breast Cancer (Also, “mets” in cancer-lingo.) The scary, hairy, foul-breathed boogeyman of breast cancer. It means your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body. But it is still called “breast cancer” no matter where it goes (bones, organs, lymph nodes…) Imagine you are Turkish, and you visit Newfoundland for some whale watching or, God forbid, turbot-fishing. You are still Turkish.  You are not considered Canadian just because you came to Canada for the fish.  OK, so perhaps this analogy is a bit obscure.  What I’m saying is, it’s not that your breasts have travelled to your liver, but that the invading cells are the offspring of the original trouble-makers. When this happens, they just add the M-Word to the C-Word and voila! Your C-Word gets cranked up a few stages (see “Staging” below.)

Biopsy This is when they physically extract suspicious cells from your body and send them to a lab for questioning under a microscope. They have lots of different kinds of biopsies, some of which are less unpleasant than others, but eventually you’ll get an answer. Oh yes, you’ll talk, little cells… You’ll sing like little cancerous canaries…

Pathology  The specific nature of your disease as defined by the characteristics of your cancer cells.  Some breast cancers are related to hormones, some are not; some breast cancer cells have certain proteins on them, others do not.  The lab identifies exactly what the cells are made of so the oncologists know whether to use the medical equivalent of numchucks or molotov cocktails.  All breast cancer cells are stupid jerks, you don’t need a microscope to see that.

Radiation I think everyone has a basic idea of what happens with radiation – you nuke the cancer.  In a localized, laser-beam sort of way. Check out “radiation” in the tags for more details.

Chemotherapy Ah, notorious chemo: the bald-making, sick-making, cancer-killing drug therapy. Actually, not all chemotherapies make you bald and many are much improved in the sick-making department too. They’ve come a long way, baby.  And they’re not all administered by IV drip, either – some (like my capecitabine) are pills.  Think of chemo like an army that goes in and wipes out everything good along with everything bad, with the intention of rebuilding the good stuff later (this usually works better in chemotherapy than in Bush Administration foreign policy.) The somewhat arbitrary attack plan explains hair loss; if chemo drugs are designed to attack fast-reproducing cells – like cancer cells – they’ll knock out hair cells too. Hair loss can be an incredibly devastating, psychologically debilitating, massive downer. You look in the mirror and see “cancer” looking back.  On the upside, people will give you their seat on the bus and eventually, the hair grows back. 

Targeted Therapies These newer cancer treatments are less arbitrary than chemo, and more targeted to the specific cellular stuff happening with certain cancers. For example, they may work in conjunction with chemotherapy to deliver the toxic drugs directly to the cancer cells (smart-bombing) or they may be designed to prevent the tumour from developing the blood vessels it needs to feed itself and grow.  Let’s all just take a moment here and be collectively creeped out that tumours develop blood vessels and feed themselves.  Seriously. It’s gross. It’s like something from a Ridley Scott movie.

Staging This is when they measure your cancer and kind of rank how bad it is.  Not that anyone ever says “it’s somewhat bad,” or “it’s extremely bad.” They will just talk about how much it has spread, how big the tumour is, where it is in proximity to organs, etc.  Stage 0 cancer is called “in situ” and means it hasn’t moved one little bit, and Stage IV is the big M.  People sometimes also talk about “high grade” and “low grade” cancer. This is another measure of the likelihood of the cancer to move around or otherwise become a greater pain in the a**.  In addition, you’ll hear about things like “triple positive” or “double negative” cancers – this isn’t a measure of the extent of the cancer but of its nature (estrogen, progesterone or HER-2 positive or negative) so don’t let it freak you out.  

There are many more terms in the cancer lexicon – far, far too many – but that, I think, is enough cancer talk for one day.

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Losing It

Back when I was told that I would have chemo, the idea of losing my hair terrified me. Not constant nausea or exhaustion or even premature menopause – baldness was the most daunting of all the side effects. 

Apparently a lot of women feel this way.  Hair can be a primary part of our self-image.  It can communicate things about our identity (“Professional,”  “Soccer Mom,” “Vixen,” “Hockey Fan”); it can complement our outfits or reflect our moods; it can even be a kind of camouflage.

For me, there was the notion that once I lost my hair, my cancer would become public knowledge.  Bald head = cancer.  It was a symbolic of loss of control, and I dreaded it deeply.

As it turned out the process of losing it was harder than the loss of it.  It went from long to gone in a relatively short time, and with it finally gone, there was some genuine relief.  Herewith, the illustrated play-by-play:

1. I had long hair.  It was July and normally my hair falls out like crazy in the summer anyway, but this time my shedding surpassed that of the average golden retriever. And it was changing in texture, becoming a frizzy, tangled mess. (That’s me on the left, obviously) 

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2. One evening a friend came over to chop it down to size. It was a gorgeous evening, and my husband opened a nice bottle of wine for liquid courage while we sat out on the back deck.  Glasses were emptied, the deck was strewn with hair, the sun set — and in the end I really liked this cute, super-short haircut that I would only have for a few days.  

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3. But oh, the infernal itching… the coming out in clumps.  It was driving me mad. Just days after my short haircut, friends and their clippers were enlisted to give me a buzz cut. They draped me in a sheet in their kitchen and I was transformed again, more radically this time.  I actually found it liberating – it wasn’t a look that had fallen into my lexicon of “sexy” but I took it as a big compliment later in the week when a gay woman I know warned me to stay away from lesbian bars if I didn’t want to attract unwanted attention.

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4. Even buzzed, the shedding continued at an alarming rate.  I carried a lint roller around with me and kept one by the bed for my pillows.  Adding injury to insult, the roots hurt a little as the hair came out.  I knew it had to go completely.  A brave friend offered a head massage to get rid of the remaining hair. 

This was the final step between looking like someone who has perhaps chosen a radically short haircut, and someone who is bald because she has cancer. When I showered the last of the hair away, there was nothing left but blond fuzz and a bizarre tan line where my part used to be.  I will never forget looking in the mirror that first time.  No more denying it: I was bald, because of cancer.

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5. These days I wear scarves a lot and sometimes go al fresco, depending on who’s around.  I really like turbans – I call myself The Turbanator.

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Our daughter doesn’t seem to care about my new look, probably because we had repeatedly told her I was going to cut all my hair off “to look like Grandpa”, and to a two year old there’s nothing weird about that.  As for the rest of the world, I’ve learned that most of the time I don’t care if strangers realize that I’m bald because of cancer under my scarves.  I do have cancer.  That’s just the reality. 

When it grows back I wonder if I’ll treasure my hair more or take it less seriously than I did before? (If nothing else, cancer can do wonders for vanity.) Either way, there are worse things than having cancer strip you of your hair, scarier demons to face with this illness.  It’s not that cancer isn’t terrifying, but that baldness doesn’t have to be. 

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Henchmen & Thugs – My Fifth Round of Chemo

Yesterday I had my fifth round of chemo. 

 

Since I’ve already had one round of this particular drug, called docetaxel, or Taxotere, I know it means business.  First, they put you on steroids for a few days to ward off possible allergic reactions.  Yes, steroids – the bon-bons of pro-wrestlers and muscle-heads.  It’s a bit weird, but at least I have the energy to run circles around my toddler for a few days. 

 

Then I stop taking the steroids just as the side effects of chemo kick in, and it starts to get ugly.  Last time I had a raw, ragged mouth and throat that took all the joy out of eating and drinking (two of my favourite pastimes.)  Worse was the constant, deep, aching joint-pain that radiated out to my muscles, causing them to sort of seize up and stay that way for days.    

 

In the info booklet provided by the drug company that makes Taxotere, its effect is described as causing the walls of cells to stiffen so they can’t reproduce or grow.  To me this sounds a little understated considering the chaos that is wreaked upon my body, so I have concocted my own theory about what’s really happening.  In my unscientific way I rationalize that the chemo is attacking the factory (in my bones) that produces very fast-reproducing cells (like cancer cells) and we’re not letting anyone in that factory without a work permit.  Normally I’m kind of laissez-faire on the subject of work visas and generally suspicious of factory owners, but in this case, not so much.  I say find the interlopers, pound the crap out of them, and back to work with the permit-holders. I think of chemo drugs as my thugs, my henchmen, in there to clean the place up a little. The factory may quake with the violence of it, but it’s my factory dammit, and I want order restored.  

 

Of course, being henchmen and by nature not too discriminating about where they land their blows, there is a lot of pounding of “good” cells right along with the interlopers.  So this time I’ve asked for and received more drugs for pain.  Even better, my family and friends have banded together to chip in for a massage therapist to come to me every single day next week.  This is an astonishing thing to do and much as I’m dreading the onset of the pain that will require such care, I’m practically giddy about the incredible relief I know it will bring. I’m also reminded that I’m not alone as I go through this.  I’m surrounded by people who keep committing these outrageous acts of love and support to get me through my darkest days.  Big blitzes, or little random love bombs – ka-boom! – they just keep going off in my vicinity, lighting my way. 

 

So, Taxotere, bring on the henchmen, do your thing. I know I’ll get through it – and when the dust settles I’ll toast my thugs and my loved ones alike.  Just as soon as I can drink something toast-worthy again without wincing.

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