I woke up this morning with the rash that had started along my bra line, spread to cover all the space the radiation covers (starting yesterday I can see the perimeters of the radiation - like a light pink sunburn). It is most unpleasant as it is itchy, red and unattractive, like the chicken pox. I'll have radiation tomorrow and hope to see the doctor and ask what I can do to take care of it. I'd like to make it go away but that seems unlikely with 20 treatments left to go.
My dad came in town this weekend. It's been super fun having him here. We haven't done anything eventful really - just the usual stuff. But yesterday my friend and her boyfriend came over for breakfast. She chairs the American Cancer Society Pink Ribbon Golf Tournament here in Marietta/Cobb County.
A few years ago she recruited me to be on the board and help with it as well. I couldn't be on the board in '09, but I still volunteered for the set-up of the party and silent auction the night before the golf tournament and attended it as well. A week later, I found out I had breast cancer. My dad made a really nice donation to this year's tournament. I'm proud to be associated with such a fine event and will participate in it again this year.
Mon., Jan. 18, 2010
This is how I usually run: pick a (pretty, mildly, kind of...) reasonable goal, say "run 5 miles in 50 minutes." Then run a little harder than a 10 minute mile, walk when necessary, and run harder to make up for the time lost walking. Finish somewhere close to 50 minutes, maybe 52 and be grateful. Try harder next time but keep pushing and eventually, when I'm at 6 and 7 miles, 5 miles feels good.
I bought a book about running 2 years ago when I completed the Atlanta ING Half-marathon, Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer.
One of Dreyer's main principles is relaxing, letting your core supply the energy for your running rather than using your leg muscles to "power through." He calls it "steel and cotton" where your spine is "steel" and the rest of you is "cotton," relaxed muscles following the lead of your energy's core. I decided to try this principle in yesterday's run.
It was about two hours after some Varsity Jr. onion rings (thanks Dad!) and I thought, "OK, if I can just get in 3 miles (without puking), I'll be ecstatic!" I hopped on the treadmill and started running, a little slower than usual to practice relaxing all my muscles while imagining my spine as steel. The amazing thing was that I felt so good, as I got to 3 miles I decided to go ahead and do another...and then another, 5 miles total without stopping to walk! And I finished in 52 minutes, the same time I usually have when I have repeated the pattern of "push like crazy" and rest! Most amazingly though, I felt as good when I stopped as when I had started.
So this is a big lesson for me and one I hope I can translate into all other areas of my life. Because I tend to be the kind of person who works in fits and starts burning myself out and then recuperating over and over. If I can learn this, it will be a huge bonus to the whole cancer experience. : )
I've now completed 14 treatments - only 19 to go. My rash is better (cortisone cream works wonders). But I'm fatigued by the drudgery of going to the hospital, parking, walking the distance to the cancer center, changing, waiting my turn, being positioned for radiation, having radiation, dressing, leaving, trying to get any errands squeezed in and to the gym in a reasonable time frame, and finally getting home between 6:30 and 7 p.m. I don't know about you, but even without children it seems there's always something to be done once I arrive home.
Anyway, that is where I am tonight, grateful for God's very real, physical lesson, to relax, enjoy the run, and realize I'll get there in the same amount of time whether I stress about it or not. And humbly asking for help, something which I really don't like doing.
Tues., Jan. 26, 2010
I walked in my office yesterday to a beautiful mixed bouquet of pink flowers - a gift from my mom for surpassing the half-way mark of my radiation treatments! Today I passed into the next "decade" of numbers, 20 (only 13 to go)! As my skin continues to redden, blister, scab over (oh yes! so lovely!), itch and peel, I'm more than ready for it to be over. But as someone reminded me this weekend, in the scheme of things, this whole experience is temporary. : )
My mom told me recently that someone made the comment to her that "Paige is always so up." As my mom pointed out to them, I'm not always "up." The truth is, some days are harder than others, although less so now and I really credit that to God's work through my family, friends, exercise, hypnotherapist and so many others in my life including you all. Sometimes through this process I've felt sorry for myself, cried, pitched fits and wailed. I think that's normal and I don't apologize for it. It's a process. And I'm grateful that I'm coming out the other side - finally! And yes, I do think I'm a better person for it in the end (Darn, I wish growth didn't have to hurt so much!)
Thurs., Jan. 28, 2010
I am 2/3 of the way finished with radiation! I'm so ready! This week I seem to be experiencing the fatigue I heard about as a side effect. Even though I go to bed early, I just feel drained. The doctor said that feeling usually goes away a few weeks after radiation is finished. She has also given me a prescription for the itching. It will all be over soon.
Tues., Feb. 16, 2010
I've started this post in my head a thousand times! I feel a little like Ferris Bueller at the end of the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." The credits have rolled all the way through the final scenes of battered Mr. Rooney boarding the school bus and sitting next to the girl in glasses who offers him a warm gummy bear. Ferris comes back on the screen, looks into the camera and asks the movie going audience, "Are you still here? Go home! It's over!"
This is my final post because as of Friday, my final radiation treatment (and four months to the day I found out my diagnosis,) this experience of breast cancer is over for me. Sure, I still have follow-up appointments, mammograms and meetings with the surgeon every 6 months, and I'll start 5 years of Tamoxifen in the next week, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm done with being a "cancer patient." I had no idea what a sense of relief the end of radiation would bring with it. I believe I am "Paige Cancer FREE"!
So I thought I'd share with you some of what I learned through this process. Enjoy!
* It's good to lie down for five minutes (about the length of radiation treatments once I actually got on the table) and do nothing once every day. It's surprisingly relaxing and who hasn't got five minutes?
* When given a choice, choose the oldest hospital gown - it's the softest.
* Do whatever you need to do to make your life what you want it to be NOW because events like cancer can happen at any time and without warning. I'm not sure this one really has any urgency until AFTER the fact, but I hope I've learned my lesson. The truth older and sick people have learned is that our bodies DO have limits.
* Ask for help - most people are just waiting to be asked. I can't begin to thank all of you enough for your gifts of prayer, food, good luck talismans...the list goes on. Suffice it to say, I could never repay you, but will strive to pass on all your good will to others in need.
* Your body can do more than you require of it 99 percent of the time. We all think at one time or another that we've hit our limit. I only had one week during radiation, the last one, where I didn't make it to the gym or outside to run. Not only was it my last week of treatments, but I had a stomach virus and didn't eat well for four days. Which leads me to my next "revelation"...
* Rest when you need to! Staying in bed all day watching movies and reading is HIGHLY underrated! I can't speak for all of society, but I definitely have a hard time slowing down and giving my body the time it needs to repair itself. The 4 or so days total I spent in bed through this process were a gift.
* This is similar to the third bullet above: Your life may or may not be as long as you think it will be, so enjoy each day for all it's worth. Use it up!
I would have to say this has probably been the greatest shock for me. I don't know about you, but even though I'm turning 38 this week, inside, I still feel like I'm about 25. Encountering an experience like "CANCER" (you can hear the horror movie music in the background!) has reminded me of my mortality. What if it comes back? I hope I live another 50-plus years and that I die from natural causes. That may or may not be my fate. Not to sound cliched, but only God knows the span of our days. The reality is we will all die one day, I just hope it's one day far away but that is less true every day.
* Despite the mess our medical system is in, a large part of it consists of really great people who sincerely care about the patients who need its services. I wish I had the time and space to go into ALL of the details about the medical professionals who have been so good to me. Two radiology technicians especially will always inhabit my prayers and well wishes. These two women are extraordinary.
* Despite all the wonderful caring medical professionals, they don't know everything therefore you HAVE to be your own best advocate! This is a fact that has really blown me away as in my mind, doctors have always held 99.9 percent of the answers about my health. I will say it again in case you didn't read my very first post here-had I not pushed, the breast cancer I had would have gone undetected and undiagnosed. Andre and I talk all the time about where is all the money for breast cancer research going? Why is the treatment still so antiquated? And most importantly to me, why can't they tell us HOW we got it so they can accurately tell us that HOW they are treating it, will CURE IT?!
* FINALLY (I bet you thought I'd never get to the end), no matter what is allowed to happen in my life, God is still supreme. I have been angry at God, questioned him (or her if you so choose), begged for deliverance, and finally come back around to peace with him. As an older and wiser friend of mine said to me recently, my job wasn't to ask for deliverance, it was to ask how I can praise Him each day. I believe he is a God of redemption and can make anything beautiful. So I wait to see how he will bring beauty from some of the more painful parts of this experience and meanwhile, I praise Him. As He reminded me several years ago while on a mission trip to Kenya, He has ALWAYS given me a more wonderful life than I could have EVER imagined for myself.
May you be similarly blessed!