Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Taking control

Today I had my first weekly weigh in at Weight Watchers since I started doing the program. I have lost (drumroll, please) just over seven pounds! Of course, I'm delighted by this loss, though I wish I felt it's a sign of how much I need to lose that seven pounds doesn't immediately make me look slimmer. In any case, I'm thrilled with my first week. I've shown amazing willpower towards food, but more importantly (to me) I am re-learning some eating habits and making better food choices. I'm looking at food on a weekly basis, and planning for "downfall" events like parties where I know there will be high-cal food, and as such I'm planning for success. (I know, for example, that if I want to go out for dinner on Saturday and not worry about what I'm going to order, then I should show restraint in my choices on the days leading up to Saturday, so that I can enjoy my treats on Saturday but not put on weight. This might seem pretty obvious to some people, but it wasn't obvious to me, and it's a huge "aha!" moment for me.)

One thing that I like about the WW plan is that I can still have treats - it's just about making choices. Today I had super healthy food all day, and that means that tonight I am enjoying a glass of wine. Any diet that allows a glass of wine makes sense to me! (I'm also eating more fruits and veggies than ever, however, as they have low points and fill me up if I'm hungry.)

Anyway, I'm taking control of what I can control. I can't make my hair grow, and I can't make treatment easier, but I can control what I eat and make healthy choices. I do not intend to beat breast cancer only to be taken down by heart disease...I intend to be healthy. Period.

All this thinking about food is also a way to avoid thinking about radiation. I completed my first true radiation today (number 2 of 34 appointments...number 1 of 33 treatments). It was fine. The people are nice. It doesn't hurt. I still don't want to do it. There's not much more to say about it than that, I think. I'll report on it later when I'm more in the mood.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pictures 4 weeks after chemo

Here are two pictures of my "bald" head, taken on Sunday. My duck fuzz is getting thicker and longer, though my scalp is still visible. I've taken to going out sans hat or scarf because I can't be bothered any more, and I have just enough fuzz to keep my head warm when I'm indoors. It's still pretty awful, as hair goes, but it's an improvement.

1 down, 33 to go

Today I showed up for the first of 34 radiation appointments. I have so many thoughts swimming in my head that I can barely sort them all out, but here is a start.

Perhaps some of you will remember that at my first meeting with Dr. Rinn, my oncologist, Ryan and I met a couple in the lobby who were dressed in black, Goth clothing. They were kind to us, and the woman was particularly helpful to me as she told me about chemo and tried to help me to believe that it wasn't going to be as bad as I expected; she truly helped to alleviate some of my fears. Anyway, today I saw her again for the first time. I walked right by, and then thought better of it, turned around, and approached her. I told her that she probably didn't remember me, but that I'd met her on my first day of chemo, and that I was truly grateful to her for helping me so much. She hugged me and told me that she was glad I'd stopped to tell her, and that I made it somehow worthwhile for her that she'd been able to help me. She told me that she'd been having a rough day, and that I had brought a smile to her face.

Here's the thing, though: she looked terrible. Her smile to me was genuine, but the sparkle in her eye was all but gone. Her skin was pale, and her teeth have blackened. She looked like she could barely walk, and like she was in a good deal of pain. When I saw her last July, she had already been in treatment for who-knows-how-long, and she had a bald head; today I had a bit more hair than she did. I can surmise what her definition of a "rough day" is, and the thought of it makes my chest contract and my eyes sting. It looks like the angel I met last July is fighting even more demons. I carry her in my heart and pray that she will win her battle.

I didn't realize until after I saw her just how much anxiety I have had about starting radiation. This morning I did a ton of chores around the house, catching up on things and actually working up a sweat I was doing so much and so quickly (playing with Tessa intermittantly between tasks), and I think that what I was really doing is preparing for another battle...perhaps one in which I won't be up to vacuuming or catching up on laundry or organizing a box of things to be donated. I thought that I was just being productive, but I think that somewhere in my head I am preparing to enter the chemo-like state again. The realization of this makes me sick.

With these thoughts in my head, I felt somewhat emotional as I met my radiation team. Four individuals (Maria, Luce, Jude and...oh no the name has slipped already!) will be performing all of my treatments, and they were very kind. I laid on the machine and they marked me up with even more ink, measuring and aligning the machine to set the coordinates so that the radiation will only hit the intended areas and not damage my heart, lungs, etc. This was the final step before beginning radiation in earnest tomorrow.

After radiation simulation, I went to Starbucks, and treated myself to a pastry. The Weight Watchers thing is going fabulously, and I really feel good, but I quite intentionally buried my anxiety in food. (I have enough points to do this, so it's not even cheating. I get weighed tomorrow and hope to report some weight loss then.)

I do not want to go back in that building every day for the next two months. More than that, though, I don't want to feel sick again. I feel so great right now that the idea that radiation might take away all of my newfound energy is...well, I don't have the right word for it. Disheartening. Terrifying. Painful. I don't want to go back. I know that radiation isn't chemo, and I don't expect the same thing, but as I lay on the radiation table I realized that I've been telling myself that radiation isn't a big deal and that it's just a minor inconvenience and that it's nothing compared to chemo. Well, as I walked through the 10 inch thick lead doors marked "caution" and as four people hovered over me and a giant machine whirred over and around me, moving into position, my left arm held uncomfortably above my head and my left chest (no longer a breast) exposed, I realized that this is real. This is not just "a little extra to make sure," it's deep treatment. And I know how treatment - surgery and chemo - has felt so far, and the idea of more of it is almost too much. Too, too much.

I think that this is the real reason I was so upset on the 28th when I was told that I'd have to wait to start radiation. I have gotten used to feeling good again and I've had time to remember what it means to be "normal", and I appreciate it more than ever before. And now I have to adjust to being a cancer patient again. Don't worry, I am not throwing myself into the pit of dispair and assuming the worst about my treatment (I am still hopeful that I'll feel great) but the truth is that when this is done I will have some, if not many, side effects, and it's not fun.

And then there's that Goth angel. I can wear my pink ribbon polarfleece, and I can roll my eyes at the thought of having stickers on my body for the next couple months, and I can publish a running commentary of my treatment on the internet, and I can do all of these things as a way of saying "I'm stronger than this! I have cancer, but cancer does not have me!" and I will raise money and I will walk 60 miles and I will volunteer....but despite those pretty, optimistic, positive actions, the truth is that this damn disease is ugly. UGLY. That Goth angel inspired such strength and courage when I met her in July, and this stupid disease is stealing so much from her. Today, she terrifies me.

I came home from radiation and sobbed on Ryan's shoulder for a moment. Then I emailed Starbucks to see what the nutritional information for the treat I had is so that I can calculate the points, and then I took Tessa to a playdate (where I had a lovely time). So life goes on. I will not remain a babbling mess, but today I am reminded of the road ahead. Again. I will continue to be optimistic, but every now and then the reality of my fear punches me in the stomach.