Eish continued…

Today I’m back under house and bed arrest.  White blood cell count is low, but thankfully not critically so.  Another infection and another 5 day course of antibiotics.

 

The previous plan of having more fills more frequently, has temporarily been thwarted. No more fills until all the infection has cleared.  The lack of lymph nodes to help drain away any nasties and the lack of a healthy immune system due to the chemo drugs, are the usual suspects.  My plastic surgeon says any infection near the surgery site needs to be controlled quickly, so I need to let her know by tomorrow if it has not cleared significantly, she may need to consider stronger drugs.  She explained to me that if an infection continues and there is pus involved internally, the area will have to be cleaned out, the expander will have to be removed and the process started all over again.  My heart sank.

 

I am therefore listening to doctors orders and resting, especially with chemo looming next week. I have movies and series to watch and two willing sausage dogs to keep me company.

 

I am beginning to understand exactly what a mind game this all is.  I thought that being young (in oncology terms of course!), and strong before starting this process would ensure I would get through surgery and the treatments pretty easily.   I used to say to Pete how sorry I felt for the older people undergoing treatment; they all looked so frail and exhausted- how on earth did they get through each session?  How lucky I was to have youth on my side.  But yesterday I saw an elderly gentleman being given his chemo drugs at the Cancer centre – I realised how looks are so deceiving.  Here I was, probably 30 to 40 years his junior, on the outside looking robust and rotund, especially by chemo standards, but feeling as frail and exhausted as he looked.  

 

When your entire body turns against you, it’s only your mind and spirit that can possibly see you through until your body is able to catch up.  And that has nothing to do with age.

 

 

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.  But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” Unknown

 

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.” JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“you never know how strong you are… until being strong is the only choice you have.”
― Cayla Mills

“I feel like myself, strong and weak at once – allowed, at least for a little while, to be both.”
Veronica Roth, Allegiant

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.

That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”  Veronica Roth, Allegiant

Eish

This morning didn’t start very well…  I noticed a small red patch of skin just above my scar on my right side on Saturday and assumed this was normal skin stretching stuff. Last night I noticed this patch has increased in size and “heatness”… this morning it hadn’t looked as it has gotten any worse, but it hadn’t improved either.  I took some anti inflams and made myself a cold compress from a packet of frozen corn (along with a reminder that we needed to add frozen peas to our shopping list!) and called the Cancer Centre.  The sister suggested I pop in for them to have a look.  

 

For someone usually VERY self conscious, I have suddenly developed some “flasher” tendencies!  I can whip by shirt off for almost anyone!  Two of the sisters had a look; hysterical about my corn compress idea, very concerned I had done this in the middle of Pick n Pay!  I guess they’re just as worried about my flasher tendencies!

 

They felt it definitely needed some attention, said they would chat to the oncologist, but that I would more than likely need an antibiotic.  Driving home I was phoned to say the Dent Doctor would need me to do a blood test just to check on those pesky white blood cells, and suggested I contact the plastic surgeon as well to take a look. Eish!  

 

The plastic surgeon says she wants to see me at 13:00. Double Eish!

 

(quotes to follow!)

Christmas Decorating

I have had such a good strong week that I have even managed to do some Christmas shopping and have a few coffee dates!

 

So yesterday when I woke up feeling a bit “flu-ey”, which I now recognise as a sign that my white blood cell count is a bit low, I didn’t feel too cheated about taking a PJ-day and staying away from public places when I had to cancel an outing.  It also often means that I may also be a tad more irritable than normal – sorry Pete!

 

Today was “full up Friday”, so other than tidying up my craft cupboard, doing a few other household chores and listening to the new NOW Christmas CD Pete bought for me ( I think it was a hint that Boney-M could not be played another year!), I have been taking it easy.

 

Our Christmas decorations went up last weekend.  I can hear all my traditionalist friend tutting about that being FAR too early. Well, we felt the house and both of us needed some cheering up, and for me, Christmas decorations do exactly that!  Not knowing exactly when my new chemo plan will start after my next one on the 4th, is certainly making it difficult to make any Christmas or New Year plans.  So controlling what I can at the moment, like deciding on how and where the Christmas décor should look and go, is a very important thing in my life!

 

So if anyone else is thinking they will be judged if their Christmas decorations are put up early… I say…. if it’s something that will give you and your family a little more to smile about at this time of the year, go for it –  after all life is short, but right now you still have a chance to make some great new memories…

 

Christmas 2013

 

Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance – each beautiful, unique and too soon gone.”
~ Deborah Whipp

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”
~ Peg Bracken

The best Christmas trees come very close to exceeding nature.”
~ Andy Rooney

The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!”
~ Charles N. Barnard

Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.”
~ Eric Sevareid

Pain and gain

Friday was the day of my third fill.  And like much of this process I learned quite a bit from the one before.  It all seems to be about knowing as much as possible about what to expect and then dismissing all the theory and just managing the after effects.  

 

I don’t doubt my decision to start the reconstruction process straight away, but it has not been without its own challenges. My fills have been every 2 weeks and scheduled between chemo sessions allowing my body some time to adjust and heal as best it can.  It has been nothing short of miraculous being able to see my body “blossom” over a few weeks. Especially once my hair fell out; it has been nice to be able to portray some illusion of femininity

 

I am now at the stage where I need to make decisions about how much fill I actually would like to spend the rest of my life with.  You would think that would be easy considering my post surgery flat chest – anything would be better than THAT, right?  What that actually means is how much your body can physically take – so definitely no illusions of a Pamela Anderson chest for me! 

 

I had naively thought I would like to be the size I was before surgery; a way to continue my life without the very physical reminder of what had been lost.  I had never given a single thought to what my breasts ever weighed; I only ever worried about cup size so I could buy the correct underwear!  But I now know for a fact how much mine weighed, it is written very clearly in the surgeons report: 600grams of breast tissue was removed from both breasts.  So I actually have a number to work towards….

 

But as most women know, there is no beauty without some kind of pain.  The cost of my “beauty” lasts for 2 days after the fill.  It comes in the form of intense pressure around my sternum area all the way through into the muscles between the shoulders and it affects the mobility of my healing right arm.  The pressure I was prepared for, but the corresponding pain is what took me totally by surprise.  In fact I was in so much pain, my back felt like it was going to go into spasm every time I sat down.  I couldn’t lie down as the pressure in my chest made me feel I couldn’t breathe.  I slept that night propped up in bed with a million pillows and almost had to bring the anti skid mat out of retirement!  

 

So this Friday I learned from that lesson and asked her to inject a little less fluid.  After all, I have quite a few months of chemo and fills ahead of me before the implant surgery….  Sadly she pointed out that this was not in fact true…. Not only does the muscle and skin need to be expanded to a size I am happy with, it has to be over expanded so that there is enough skin for her to use for the surgery.  The over expanded skin usually needs to be left for six months in order to have the necessary stretch.  BUT with radiation looming after chemo, this is not an option.  So realistically, I need to get to my happy fill place asap!

 

Friday after my fill, the pain and pressure seemed less severe than the first time, but it was honestly still a very uncomfortable two days.

 

I have now also been encouraged to go for smaller fills every week…  so after spending the weekend agonizing over this next reality, 2 guesses where I am going to be this Friday!

 

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy”.  Anne Frank

 

“Natural beauty takes at least two hours in front of a mirror”. Pamela Anderson

 

“The good man suffers but to gain, And every virtue springs from pain; As aromatic plants bestow, No spicy fragrance while they grow; But crush’d or trodden to the ground, Diffuse their balmy sweets around”. Oliver Goldsmith

 

“Learning is a gift.  Even when pain is your Teacher”.  Unknown

 

“Pretty words are not always true, and true words are not always Pretty”. Unknown

2 months

My second chemo weekend done and dusted and I think I slept through most of it! I cannot believe how exhausted my body has been this time around. Having learned to use my anti-nausea medication more effectively has allowed me to focus on getting more rest and not on my queasy tummy.  I guess that’s what this fighting process is all about, learning, adapting and never forgetting…

 

I have a busy week ahead of physio, blood tests and my 3rd fill. Today is also 2 months since my surgery; two months of physical, emotional and spiritual upheavals.  Learning to take one step at a time, trying not to look back but also remembering it is impossible to look too far ahead for fear of being overwhelmed by the journey still ahead.  

 

It’s been a time of contradictions, insecurities, pain of physical and mental scars; being expected to be stronger than you have ever had to be in your life, when realistically you have never felt so weak…  Sometimes the ugliness of it seemed just too overwhelming.  So much easier to just lay down and let it consume… to give up trying to put on a brave face, telling the world you are fine as it’s actually impossible to put into words how scared and out of depth you actually feel, and let’s be honest – who actually wants to hear that.

 

Over the last two months I have found that the only way it has been possible to keep this chaotic new life in perspective has been to write about each unfolding chapter, every experience. To be able to process so I can continue getting up in the mornings and never forget to keep moving forward.

 

“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength”.  Theodore Rooseveld

 

“Life can be funny and serious.  We either laugh over it or cry over it.  But Life itself doesn’t care about such reactions.  It goes on.”  Terry Mark

 

 “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light”. Madeleine L Engle

 

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are”. Unknown

 

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward”. Ellen Glasgow

 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”  Ernest Hemingway

 

Mac-D’s

 

Pete and I after MacD's

Pete and I after MacD’s

So there I was, back on my lazy boy chair having chemo number 2!

 

With a really grateful attitude and a major perspective change after spending the last 2 days stressing it would not happen today!

 

 

I saw the Dent Doctor this morning and he’s very happy with my healing.  Astonished just how quickly I am going through puberty! I was relieved to hear that he thinks the numb patch on my left thigh, may just be a pinched nerve and not the start of bone cancer as I feared (did I mention being slightly dramatic!).

 

 

Had some very interesting chemo neighbours today too. I sat next to and swapped a few war stories with a fellow breast cancer survivor.  She was proudly displaying her new hair growth, telling me how losing her hair was the most traumatic experience for her, even worse than the bilateral mastectomy.  Something I really could identify with!

 

 

She said she did not enjoy wearing a wig as it was really uncomfortable and extremely hot, but sometimes a necessity. She runs her own business and was at an exhibit in Joburg, thinking people were not going to buy from a sick person with no hair, she reluctantly donned her wig with a beanie over it as the weather was rather chilly.  She was attending to 3 immaculately coiffed ladies when her itching scalp became really uncomfortable, so she pulled off her beanie; she and the customers got a lot more than they bargained for when the wig came off with it!   Apparently the reaction from these ladies was truly priceless, convinced that they may have just witnessed someone scalp themselves!  I was almost rolling on the floor (quite a feat, with a drip in your arm!).

 

 

This was always my worst fear about wearing a wig, it either being knocked off my head or me accidentally pulling it off in public.  But here was this woman, surviving what most of us would find an awful and public humiliation, with a smile on her face and such an awesome story to tell!

 

 

The time spent there today seemed to just fly by, I met a DP from a local vehicle dealership and a lady who works on the medical team for the Sharks and who had enviable pictures on her iPad of her holding the Currie cup!  People I would normally never meet or even realise the battles they are fighting if I met them in any other context.

 

 

I felt so uplifted when I left the Cancer centre today. I even asked Pete to stop at the McDonalds drive through for a milkshake and Mac chips!  Not a healthy option I know, but it felt good to be alive and hey, while I’m feeling I actually can eat…

 

I may regret THAT decision in an hour or two, but for now I’m just a normal person eating McDonalds with a scarf on her head and a smile on her face!

 

 

 

 

“Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle” J.M.Barrie

 

 

“Miracles are a retelling in a small letters of the very same story which is written across the world in letters too large for some of us to see”. CS Lewis

 

 

“Don’t cry me a river, cry me a McDonalds fries.Unknown quotes

 

 

“One does not simply drive home from McDonalds without eating any fries”. Unknown quotes

 

 

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you.Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” Neil Gaiman

Irony

Today was blood test day!  I arrived at the laboratory rather apprehensively as my vein has still not made a re-appearance. However without much effort or pain the nurse managed to find it hiding just below the skin – (I understand how it feels, I wish I could do the same!).  I left feeling rather relieved, I even felt confident enough in my head scarf to go and do a few errands.

 

I should have known things had been a little too easy…..

 

The problem came an hour later when I was phoned by the cancer centre to say that they had received the results and my white blood cell count was low… my heart just sank along with my mood.

 

 I have my next chemo booked for this Friday.  Something I was really trying not to think about and certainly not looking forward to, especially remembering how awful I felt three weeks ago after the first one.

 

But it is amazing how quickly things are put into perspective!  I have already mentioned that having a lower than chemo normal white blood cell count means the next treatment cannot happen until it improves.  (Yes, you have to be well enough to have chemo so that you are strong enough to handle being made unwell by the chemo!)  Normally this would sound like fabulous news, YAY NO CHEMO! Realistically though, all it means is that another week or longer could be added on to the whole treatment plan.  Devastating! Especially when I’m literally counting down the days, hours, minutes until this is all over and more shallowly, until my hair starts growing back.

 

I have been instructed to rest at home and avoid crowds until Friday; they will then take another blood test and see if it has improved enough to proceed with the treatment.

 

So here I am at home lying in my bed doing exactly that, resting…. and willing my body to fight whatever infection it needs to, in order for me to be well enough by Friday so I can go and have my chemo. Ironic, don’t you think?

 

 

“Life is Ironic.  It takes sadness to know what happiness is.  Noise to appreciate silence.  Absence to value presence.  Unknown

Certainly, anyone whom I’ve witnessed, who has gone through something horrible and life-changing, has a sense of ironic humor, or an ability to look at the peculiarities of the world and find humor in it.  Unknown

Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.  Agnes Repplier

“Some people see the glass half full.  Others see it half empty.  I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”  George Carlin 

“What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens.  Events matter little, only stories of events affect us”.  Rabih Alameddine

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.  ~Kahlil Gibran