Saturday, September 29, 2007

a slow, quiet weekend

I'm getting over the emotions of last week, but steeling myself for the emotions to come. Next Friday - less than a week from now - is my eighth surgery, when I get nipples. Another anesthesia, another set of sutures, another recovery. Hopefully this is my last surgery, and there will be nothing but sunshine after this.

I am very, very tired of having things looming over me, of having so much work ahead of me. I am hopeful that with this next surgery, I will feel the weight of them lifting from my shoulders. I am hopeful that I will feel that my future is the same as a normal person's: full of challenges, certainly, but not with looming doom (surgeries, chemos, trips to the hospital, pain).

I find myself a lot more tired than usual this week; last night I was in bed by 8:30pm. I think it takes a lot of energy to process this stuff, and I hope that's all it is, and not that I'm coming down with something.

Last night we had the Starkey-Burdett's over for dinner (and I discovered a new salmon recipe that is definitely a keeper), and enjoyed their easy company. Today, we went to the coffee shop, we went to Lincoln Park with the dogs (Max is visiting), and we are hanging out at home. I made a crock-pot dinner (a lemon chicken dish with lots of winter veggies) that will be ready when we're hungry, and the house smells like roasting chicken, citrus, and rosemary, which is quite pleasant.

Tomorrow we'll go to church - our third week in a row, something unprecedented in my previous decade - and we're having the Hisatomi's (and perhaps Marisa, too) over for dinner to celebrate Heather's birthday. I found a crabcake recipe in my Stephanie Inn cookbook (thanks, Mom & Dad S for that birthday present from a couple of years ago - it's perfect for special occassions) that I think I will use as the meal's centerpiece, and tomorrow Tessa and I will make a cake (Heather, Tessa, and I share a love of frosting - yummm) as well.

Now I think I'll go plant some bulbs; we have two packages of them in the garage, so it's time.

Quiet days. I was ready for some quiet. Not so much running around, hustle and bustle....just some peace and quiet, times shared with friends, times outdoors, time with family at home.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The 46th Trip to the Chemo Ward

Today I finished Herceptin.

It was overwhelming to think about where I had been, and where I was going.

In an effort to calm myself, I put on my iPod and listened to the Dixie Chicks' song "Lullaby" and thought about Tessa. I thought about how long I want to love Tessa, and the tears started flowing, and I found my thoughts coming fast and furious like a prayer. "Please, let it be enough. Please let the Herceptin work. It's my last time, it has to be enough. Please I want to love her longer...please..." and it honestly took my breath away.

Herceptin has been my safety net. A hassle to go to the treatment center, an annoyance in a busy life, but today I remembered why I insisted on two years. I remembered that it's got magical science in it, and that it could be my lifesaver. And I felt terrible grief at stopping.

I'm flying without that parachute now. I've still got Femara or Aromasin, but I have one less weapon in my pocket, and I feel vulnerable without it.

Still, 46 times to the chemo ward is enough. It must be, right? There is no evidence to suggest that more would have been wiser, and it is certainly time to stop. And yet, here I am, trembling.

I think I just need a good night's sleep; tomorrow will be another busy day. Tomorrow will feel different.

I am proud of myself for fighting so hard. I could have taken an easier path and quit a long time ago. I guess it's not so crazy that all of this fighting would wear me out, and so the ending of this particular battle (though not the war) has me bittersweet.

I will most certainly slip into Tessa's room tonight to snuggle her as she sleeps. She'll wriggle away from me in her sleep because she doesn't like to be bothered when she's sleeping (can't say I blame her) but still, I will hold her close for a moment in the darkness, and I will hear the words in my head, reminding me not to give up, reminding me about forever, reminding me about love.

I had two visions in my head as I tried to calm myself, sitting in that chair, the IV in my arm.

First, I was thinking about Michele & Dave's new baby, who is due any day, and who will be delivered at the same hospital. I thought to myself, "Perhaps 30 years from now, I will be home, and I will get a call. 'Mom, your grandbaby is here....come here to see us!' and I will fly to Tessa's side to kiss her and hold my grandchild."

Then, I thought about Ryan and I, in our old age together, on a trip to Tuscany, walking between the hill towns of Cinque Terre. I could see the old, worn path beneath our feet, and I could see a town in front of us, and one behind us, too. Ryan and I were smiling in the sunshine, enjoying each others' company in retirement.

The visions couldn't stop the tears, because I could taste the desire in both visions, and I was filled with longing. But I could see them so clearly, I thought that maybe they'd come true.

One day at a time.

"Lullaby" by The Dixie Chicks

They didn't have you where I come from
Never knew the best was yet to come
Life began when I saw your face
And I hear your laugh like a serenade

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I'm never, never giving you up

I slip in bed when you're asleep
To hold you close and feel your breath on me
Tomorrow there'll be so much to do
So tonight I'll drift in a dream with you

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I'm never, never giving you up

As you wander through this troubled world
In search of all things beautiful
You can close your eyes when you're miles away
And hear my voice like a serenade

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I'm never, never giving you up

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I'm never, never giving you up
Is forever enough
Cause I'm never, never giving you up

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Last Herceptin

Tomorrow morning is my last Herceptin.

My 46th trip to the chemo ward. My 46th time getting an IV to fill my body with potentially damaging drugs. My 46th time taking an anti-cancer mix into my bloodstream.

I feel strangely flat about it. I'd thought of throwing a last hurrah party; I thought of marking the occassion in some important way...but instead, I just find myself wanting it to be done.

Of course, I'm not done. Femara, Aromasin, or whatever, and the dang-blasted fear that comes with the territory. Not done, not done at all.

Still, I'm delighted to cross this item off the list.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NOT arthritis

I just got my labwork results; I do not have arthritis, just regular joint pain from Femara. (Great news!)

Initially, I was very reluctant to switch from Femara to another drug, because there were some early studies that showed that Femara worked best in Her2+ patients like myself, and I'm fighting for every percentage point I can find. However, subsequent, larger, better controlled studies have come out, and the three drugs like Femara all look about equal now, and Femara is no better than either of them.

With that, I've called in the new prescription to Medco, and I will start taking Aromasin, another AI (the same type of drug as Femara) next week or so. It will take 4-6 weeks to know if Aromasin is better than, worse than, or equal to Femara for joint pain, but it's worth a try, so I'm going to try.

It's not arthritis, so that means that I can hope that this pain goes away when I'm done with the drug. I'm done in February 2011, so whether Aromasin is better or not, I know I'm counting down until 2011 and then I'm DONE!

Unless the cancer comes back. Which it won't. But it might. But it won't. I hope.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My speech at the 3-Day

I have received some requests for my 3-Day speech - here it is! If you would like to use part of it anywhere, I ask that you speak to me directly first.
Thank you to the 3-Day organizers for inviting me to speak with you today. Thank you also to my husband, Ryan, and my daughter, Tessa, for supporting me by being here, as well as to Team Kristina and Team Warrior Women.

Anger, Sorrow and Joy

My name is Kristina Surface, and I live in West Seattle. I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, writer, reader, 3-Day walker…and breast cancer survivor. This is part of my story.

When I was 35 years old, the stay-at-home mom of a gorgeous two and a half year old, I found a lump in my breast and I was diagnosed with stage IIb breast cancer. So the journey began. Two weeks after my diagnosis, my left breast was removed.

Showing my husband my scar hurt almost as much as the mastectomy itself: what would he say? How would he feel about this loss of femininity? Would he still find me attractive? Would he still desire me? Bitter anger at cancer filled me as I faced these questions.

In the recovery room, still groggy from anesthesia, I looked up at Ryan and, with shaking hands and tears in my eyes, said, “Look” and pulled my hospital gown aside.

He looked as I waited, full of fear. Then, he kissed the flat bandage. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s beautiful because it means you don’t have cancer anymore.”

Thank you for that moment, Ryan. It taught me, for the first time in my cancer journey, that joy could overcome the anger and sorrow.

The journey continued; chemo was next. Just before my second treatment, right on schedule, my hair started to fall out. I ran my fingers through it, and a dozen strands came out at once. Reality was upon me.

I was determined to call the shots where I could, and I did NOT want to wake up with a pillow full of hair and bald patches, so I called my stylist and begged for her help. “Please, Krista. Please shave my head.”

I went to the slaon on a Saturday morning before it was opened, and Ryan, Tessa, and a handful of loyal girlfriends came to cheer me. The mood was almost festive – I received presents and coffee, and I thought I would be okay, despite my fear and distress.

I asked to be faced away from the mirror, at my family and friends, so that I wouldn’t’ see the destruction of my hair falling. Krista, with shaking hands, began.
Tessa sat in my friend’s lap, her face white. “How are you doing, honey?” I asked. Tessa’s eyes were so big and blue, and her golden baby curls looked so beautiful to me…what would my lovely daughter think of her mother’s baldness?

“It’s okay, Mama,” she told me. She was nearly shaking, bu my brave daughter did not cry. “Mama, it will grow back,” she whispered.

That a two and a half year old needs bravery makes me angry. It makes me weep. But Tessa’s strength gives me a joy greater than any other I have known.

At last, it was done, and I looked in the mirror. My baldness made it look so… so… so real. For the first time, I actually looked sick. The tears started, and the fist words out of my mouth surprised me.

“I have cancer!”

When the tears were wiped and hugs given, it was time to get on with the day. What to do? Tessa said, “Mama, let’s go swimming!”

I thought about this. Bald, missing a breast, and an ugly port-a-cath showing? SWIMMING? At first, I almost shouted, “NO!” but then I thought again. The August day was sunny and beautiful, and my strong, brave daughter wanted to swim. Was I going to take that from her? Was CANCER trying to take these simple pleasures from me, too? Anger and sorrow overwhelmed me. Damn cancer.

Well, no way. I would swim in the sun.

We got to the pool. I put on my new mastectomy suit, and took off my scarf, and stepped out on the pool deck. I’m pretty sure that the whole pool was staring at me. Tessa didn’t notice – “C’mon, Mama, jump in!”
And so we played and splashed, and I felt the joy overcoming the anger and sorrow.

But it didn’t always.
7 surgeries.
16 chemos.
33 radiation treatments.
Two years of Herceptin.
Treatment was relentless.

I needed to believe that it could be better, that I could be better. I knew that if I could walk 60 miles, I could do anything. I had so much sorrow and anger, and I needed a place I could use it. The 3-Day was the place.

I am here today because I am a breast cancer survivor, because I am a fighter, and because I desperately want to watch my daughter become a woman. I want to grow old alongside my husband. I want to write a book, to run a marathon. I am here because I believe that the 3-Day is our best chance to make that happen.

But I’m also here because I’m mad. REALLY angry. Nobody should have to go through what I’ve gone through, and worse. I have friends who “did everything right” and still got stage IV. I have acquaintances who have died of this disease. I have seen women young and old feel the fear of wondering if they will live to see tomorrow; fear of wondering if they are strong enough to face treatment. Breast cancer is full of fear and sorrow, and it makes me so angry that these are part of mine – or anyone’s – day to dady life.
I know that you, too, are mad, and that you’ve decided to do something about it. Because you’re here, the next generation of women will survive. Because of what we’re doing here together, the cure is closer that it was before. Because of this event, somebody’s life will be saved. Maybe yours, maybe mine, maybe my daughter’s…someone’s.

I believe that because of Komen’s work, and the work of the 3-Day and other events like it, I can look my daughter in the eye, and say, “Tessa, you will not have to do what Mama did. We will find the cure, for me and for you!”

Thank you for coming here, and for being angry enough about breast cancer to do something about it. You are making the difference, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I thank you for myself, and also for my daughter. What you are doing here today gives me joy. We WILL find the cure.

And to those of you who are fighting the disease, I have one final story.

In the survivor lineup at last year’s 3-Day, somebody called out, “How many years? How long have you been survivors?” I chimed in, “One year.” Somebody else said, “Five years.” Numbers flew left and right, and we cheered for those who had made it. The woman behind me said, “One month,” and we hugged her and promised that it would get easier one day.
Then one woman close to me smiled and said, “Twenty seven years.” My eyes fill with tears just thinking abou tit: twenty seven years after my diagnosis, my daughter will be a woman. What I woudn’t give to see her grow up, to see her as a twenty-nine year old, and even, if I should be so lucky, become a grandma.

The twenty-seven year survivor caught my eye, asked me about my treatment, and told me about hers. She said that she’d made a tape of herself envisioning her futre life, and all its wonderful milestone, and that she would listen to it every night as she went to sleep while she was in treatment. She said she talked about watching her children graduate from high school, and trips she would take, and other important life milestones. And at the end, she said, shefell asleep every night to the words, “I will rock my grandbabies to sleep.” She told me that she has held her grandchildren in her arms; her vision came true.

And then that woman, beautiful soul, took my hands in hers, looked me straight in the eye, and fiercely whispered, You will rock your grandbabies to sleep.”I choose to believe her.


May you rock your grandbabies to sleep.