Re-defining and Moving Forward

So last night I was blessed to have attended a lovely gathering of valuable and grace-filled souls.

It’s the best way I can describe the colleagues and friends I have gathered along my journey as a nurse.  Women who are strong, smart (some, brilliant), wickedly funny, caring, and insightful.  Some live alone; some are married; some with partners; some have children; (some even have grandchildren!) I have known some of them for decades, others for only a few years. some are retired and others are still slogging through the arduous shifts in the recovery room, operating room and various supportive departments that we all depend upon to “move forward and get ‘er done”.

Some of our conversation was about how stressful retirement can actually be! Even though it is something we all SAY we are happy to reach!

A friend texted me this morning and asked me to try and write out the things I said in our conversation together as she found them to be “right on” and they struck a chord with her. It made me revisit my thoughts and I thought maybe it was worth a journal entry.

So. I wrote on Facebook:   “It is MY philosophy/belief that nurses often DEFINE themselves by their work. Over the years we often push partners, children, sleep, food, (and especially OURselves) into the background as we immerse our heart, hands and brains completely into our passion/gift/art of helping strangers. It is WHO WE ARE. Why would it not be expected that for some, having to “re-define” all of that would be such a challenge? (Even our own nursing college refuses to let us keep our “RN” status after our names if we are not part of the “work force”!)
So I think it is important for RNs to support, honour, and help each other keep a healthier “balance” throughout our careers (and into our retirements) so that we can see ourselves for ALL that we are, not just simply what we do (or did!). Once a nurse, ALWAYS a nurse, true….but we are so much more. And we deserve all the happiness life has to offer when our shift is done.”

I find myself wondering today, why and how it is that I let myself be morphed into a creature who defines herself almost exclusively by what I did for a living?  And NOT what I am doing NOW to live?  Sometimes I worry it may even be to the extreme extent that I may have  lost important parts of myself along the way.  I am such a “selfish” person (something I say usually with a tinge of pride) that I am surprised at how easily I seem to have slipped into that woman who often defines herself by her nursing career or what I do for others…. Kind of stuck in a role and a personae that was (is) just a small part of who I truly am.  So even though I have totally adjusted to my retirement from nursing, I STILL often “define myself” as a nurse. A care provider. THAT is kind of set in stone, and I can “carry” that.

But I DO want to re-define/ re-adjust other parts of who I am. Especially the part that sometimes feels I am not doing “enough moving forward” with my life. My left brain, who wants me to be musical, creative, volunteer, meditate, exercise (et al).

But what if I “dance like nobody’s watching” and someone gets it on video and it goes viral? What if it turns out I can’t dance worth shit? I can’t read music. I hate exercise.

What if “I can’t”? What if?

So. How is it that I have become so engaged (if not married) to the thought that I actually have the power to control situations? And be so disappointed in myself when my expectations don’t always materialize?  My right brain tells me, ” Shit will not ALWAYS turn out the way YOU want it to.  Deal with it.  It’s perfectly all right. Move forward. ”  But still, I often struggle to embrace the wisdom of that part of my brain.  (It is too opinionated and fact-based in my opinion.  I also suspect it has been colluding with my left brain.  I may start an investigation.)

But curiously, even though I have almost adjusted to my Tit-O-Whirl ride, I still find myself “defining” and “re-defining” the ride.  It’s that “re-defining” that has me fascinated. And seeing that things can be viewed differently.

I am creeping forward (sometimes at glacial speed) and discovering that the more I let change “in” and see the impermanence in my life, and that sometimes shit happens for no reason (or at least as a result of something I did or didn’t do) the happier I actually am.

Embracing change (allowing for some re-defining”) has brought newfound strength into my life. And 44 years of nursing isn’t what did it. It was having cancer.  How fucking weird.

I won’t say it has brought me inner peace because it hasn’t.  I am still the chaotic, fearful, interrupting, outspoken control freak. ( I would miss her if she totally went away.  Feel free to re-visit the journal entry on why I shall never obtain sainthood.)

But I can see  now that when life fails to ruin you with its’ ride’s twists and turns, you realize that changes can’t break you. And THAT makes it possible to listen to my right brain’s wisdom. (At least from time to time!) And tell my left brain to be patient.

And continue to move forward. In retirement AND life.

 

 

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What the Dragonfly Said…

Where Is The Instruction Manual For Life After Cancer?

I am including a VERY well written article by a woman who blogs named Dragonflyangel. Worth a read if it may apply to you and to those who live with/love someone who has experienced cancer. Or you can go to her blog for more bits of insight…. It was shared with me and it resonated.

She wrote:

“During cancer, you get books and pamphlets that have information on treatments, doctor appointments, etc. But then there is the life to go back to when you are done. What now?

Those nagging words – “You have cancer” – can really feel like a sucker punch to the gut. They are unwelcome, unnecessary, and just flat out mean. I heard those words when I was 32 years old when I was told I had breast cancer. I remember I cried about three tears…okay, maybe four tears, put my boxing gloves on, and never looked back. I cried only one other time and that was when I was told I was going to lose my hair. I knew that was a given, but come on! Cancer had taken everything from me – my breasts, my peace of mind, and my calm. It was going to take my hair too? That was my last straw. However, I kept the boxing gloves on and moved forward, because what choice did I have?

I finished my six months of treatment and although it was rough, tiring, scary and overwhelming, I made it through. I was now a cancer survivor. Yippee! But that feeling of joy never hit me like I thought it would. This was the day I would run out of the office with my hands up, cheering and happy. Instead, I walked out more terrified than I was the day I was told those three dreaded words. What was wrong with me? I later came to find that nothing was wrong with me. The “now what?” side of cancer had just hit me and I didn’t know what to do. I did the only thing that came to mind – I cried.

Where was the manual for life after cancer? Where was the pamphlet on the “what now”? How come no one told me about this world? I went from seeing doctors every week to now every three months? I had chemo running through me for four months and now there is nothing. I got a certificate for completing chemo, a pin, and I was sent off on my merry way.

About a month later, the emotions of everything all came crashing down. I felt like I had literally stared death in the face. That was obviously an emotion I was not prepared for. The survivor’s guilt set in too. Why was I lucky to have survived? What do I do with my life now that I have a second chance? Everything became too overwhelming. I saw a therapist a couple of times to help with my emotions. It felt good to talk about it and realize the feelings were normal. The problem was I didn’t want a “new normal.”

It took a long time to find that “new normal” and officially accept it. Sometimes I still don’t want to. I am over five years out now. When will cancer officially crash into a brick wall and stop tailing me? I walk fast, it speeds up. I run, it keeps pace. It hasn’t caught me yet and I hope it never does. I look forward to the day where I turn around and I don’t see it keeping up. I have been working hard at that and believe it will eventually happen. In the meantime, I keep working on my “new normal.”

From one cancer survivor to the next, things truly do get better. It’s harder for some than others, but you do move forward. Acceptance is the key. Mourning your old self is a fine way to start. Allow yourself that. I did not initially. I am in the process of accepting now and it is a good place to be. You don’t have to forget, but you do need to move forward.”

Forces Outside Ourselves

Three months have come and gone. I am in a whole new YEAR!!!

I have thankfully recovered from my ” flu/pain issue” at Christmas and have been getting back to feeling well.  A trip to Hawaii, some weight loss, starting pilates YOGA, volunteering at a dog kennel, and some sunny days have forced me back on “my” track.

You may or may not remember my mentioning  a friend/ nursing colleague with ovarian cancer whom I shared some Chemo session laughter with (see my blog of November 3rd, 2016).  She passed away this January.

It was hard to see her just before she died. It sucked. I experienced a strange emotion  that forced itself into my heart.  Not in my HEAD, but into my heart. I felt it break a little.

Guilt that I was feeling so well.  Guilt that I have survived.

My head was, as always, rational and told me that I should “not allow” it in.  It came anyway.  Forced its’ way past my common sense blockers.

But where the fuck did it COME from? Why should I feel (of ALL things) guilt??? I meditated, prayed, and did some soul searching on my walks.  I even shared it with a few friends and they reassured me that it was merely “stinkin’ thinkin’ “.

I never found the answer and thankfully the guilt slowly snuck away as my memories of Kathy stopped being of her final day, and returned to those of when we laughed and worked together for so many years. ( If anyone who reads this has any ideas on why I felt “survivor guilt” here, I am open to hear your theories….)

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Today, I got a text from my dear “ObiWan” who just went through a scare with HER annual “sister squeeze”.  My Tilt-O Whirl guide (interestingly, also named Cathy buy with a Cee) calls the annual check up, appropriately,  “The Black Legacy of Terror“.

This has stirred me to journal today,  as I realize that there are so many things in this life that can suddenly force us to our knees. Unknown and unwelcome forces that seem to multiply when you have been on “the ride”.  The loss of anyone else you know that had cancer; irritating pharmaceutical side effects; surgical scars; altered body image;  weight gain; weight loss; hair loss; memory loss; fatigue; and especially overthinking that every “sideways fart” is somehow indicating Death is lurking around the corner.

Cee had to undergo extra pictures, hushed consultations between technicians and radiologists, hurried ultrasound, and then ANOTHER ultrasound…..(no doubt more of a “I will need to burn my underwear after this ” experience than simply a “scare” experience).  She was finally given the somewhat reassuring phrase of  “nothing to worry about”  but those who go through these annual breath-holding exercises after cancer treatments will understand her agony.

I can almost FEEL the expulsion of air as she allowed herself to breathe again. And somehow, you just force yourself to your feet, step out again, go back to work, get on with your day, do laundry, interact with strangers, family and friends as if your world is not still spinning madly.

My guts tighten up and a not small number of butterflies take flight in my stomach with the thought that my own  “annual (second!) check up with mammogram” is only days away.  While I am pleased I have made it to TWO, and am fairly confident that it will be fine, I am journalling to perhaps connect with those others who are also forced to “mark their years” now not only at their birthdays.

To let them know that we totally are with them (and know they are with us) as we are forced to step up to the ride again, forced to hold our breaths, and forced to wait (and hope) to hear, “Sorry, Miss, but you will have to go to the end of the line until next year. No ride for YOU t’day!”

May “The Force” (…. only the good, strong kind) be with us ALL on our journeys and rides.

So sad to see you go Kathy.  God speed.

So, SO happy to hear you are staying in line with me Cee.  I am not done laughing with you.

 

It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over

So Christmas is ten days away and I am going to be celebrating not only a “joyeux Noel” buy also a full year since ending my chemotherapy.

I wish I could say I was feeling 100%, but a flu a few weeks ago ( I usually get a flu shot but this hit me before i had the chance!) had me “out for the count” for a full two weeks and it culminated in “something going on” (sorry….it’s the best description I can do) on the right side of my chest immediately below the breast.

It started with a very mild little pain when I coughed (I would simply hold my side) that progressed over about four days into a monster.

It has been a pain that is so intense (like a rib fracture) with any slight deep breathing or God-forbid…a sneeze that it has had me pretty much immobile for about three weeks now. Along with a phlegmy cough that has me almost weepy when it hits.

I even got so bad that I went to the local ER at 6 AM when even regular breathing seemed too difficult.  They gave me a shot of Toradol (anti-infalmmatory which hurt worse than the chest pain) and four hours later in a department with only three other patients, I managed to have an ECG (cardiogram), a chest x-ray and blood work. The doctor informed me that there was nothing to be seen in any of the tests except for a “very minuscule tear of the outer lining of the lung. There is also likely some torn ligaments or muscles along the chest wall that would not show up on x-ray.” “(thank you Captain Obvious” )

So no broken rib, but at least an understanding of what was causing the pain.  I am told it could well be as a result of the radiation treatment to my right breast.

How long to have it heal?  Could be “a while” I am told.  Instructions to rest, take Tylenol and Ibuprofen sound particularly lame. Especially at THIS time of year.

So while I am resting, I begrudgingly re-visit my information on radiation.  Among the words, I find stuff I knew and some stuff I probably was told, but it was down-played to a point that I didn’t pay close attention.

“Radiotherapy makes tissues less stretchy. Doctors call this radiation fibrosis. How this affects you will vary depending on which part of your body was treated. Fibrosis may cause any of the following:

  • fractured rib due to a weakened rib cage
  • inflamed lung tissue”

Yup. Nice.

So.

Here it is, time to be putting up and decorating trees, lights outside, going to Christmas parties, shopping for gifts, planning and having get togethers of our own.  What is Sally the Sloth doing?

Same thing as this time last year. Mattress surfing, wasting the days, and feeling like a complete burden on everyone around her.  Watching as THEY do all the Christmassy tasks for her and realizing how lucky she is to have such loving, supportive family and such understanding friends.

I think I am also feeling cheated in a way.  A lump of coal (more like a lump of shit, but I will go with the “seasonal” description) has been dropped in my stocking and I am NOT amused.

I knew going into this ride of treatment that it would be long and dreary.  I was not disappointed. It was everything I imagined it would be and more. This time last year, I fantasized about “next year”.  All the things I would do at Christmas ….when I had energy and hair.  The radiation vacation was almost enjoyable and as my energy came back, I was starting to see the return of …..me.

Every time I met anyone they would say “Gee you look great! How are you feeling”?  I would respond (sometimes with more enthusiasm that I felt), “Just great! Wonderful!”

Now I realize that what has returned is, in fact, me….but the “OLD” me.  I feel like I have aged more than just a year.  I seem to be moving through thick, knee-high grass.  I can do it, but it takes more effort than it should.  I am envious of those around me who are seemingly unencumbered by any aches or pains.  I can’t remember being this whiney before the ride.

So I am now going to “buck up little soldier”.  Enough self-pity.  Push through the discomfort, and put on a smile.  There may be some residual dizziness after the ride, but this “mental caging” is unnecessary and completely of my own doing.

I am planning a dinner party tonight and to go out this weekend.  Anne helped me get my tree up, it looks great, and we will do a bit of out door lights today.  Christmas IS here and I am done with my treatments. I am being greedy wanting more perhaps and I intend to see the season with the knowledge that some are unfortunately still on their ride.

Joyuex Noel everyone! And Happy New Year!

 

Still Kicking, Thanks!

I realize that it has been a while since I posted a journal entry, ( April!!! Where has the time gone???) so I will take a few minutes and post some thoughts as I do not want to scare anyone who is still “following me” into thinking I am no longer around.

I have been doing as I promised and “living my life after cancer treatment” as best I can, trying not to worry over every bit of fatigue or forgetfulness.  I am still trying (in a half-assed way) to lose my chemo/ smoke-quitting weight gain…with moderate success.  I confess to still having a hard time denying myself pleasures like alcohol and favourite foods…. kind of like BEFORE I was diagnosed….and I am hoping that my cells are not going to hold it against me because I have not adopted a juicing/quinoa/flax seed existence.

Dave and I had a wonderful holiday in New York City and Washington, DC.  Both places are quite different and equally amazing to visit.

Then we seemed to “settle into the summer” with our old and comfortable way of just enjoying where we live and with whom we share our time.  Anne (my sister) kept us busy as she moved from the mainland to the island, purchased and did some usual renovating of her new home.  Painting, flooring, yard work etc., kept us all happily busy and the summer really flew past.  The summer was dry and sunny.  Lovely compared to the rest of the world/ country/ province that suffered forest fires, rainy weather, or hurricanes! Mom was happy to have her home back to being a “bachelorette pad” after Anne moved out and her tomatoes are STILL producing late into October.  (Dad would have been proud.)

We watched a solar eclipse….

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and actually had our little boat out on the water a few times with one of our granddaughters, Finnley.

My Tamoxifen regimen seems to be going well…..and I have had really NO serious side effects that I am aware of.  In fact, I confess, that my sex drive has actually increased in the past four or five months. I had read that it can cause “vaginal dryness” but it has not been the case for me.  Maybe it is a psychological thing, but I confess that intercourse has been even more intense and pleasurable with LESS estrogen in my body. Who knew? HAHA! Don’t tell Dave.

Finally! A cancer “perk”.

I also realized my passport had expired and I decided to have my new ten- year passport with my “post-chemo hair”….haha! Will enjoy watching the look on the airport security people when they try to figure out if lightning indeed struck me just before the photo. I thought I could try and let it grow out a bit….but it just got weirder looking.

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I saw a fellow in Lund, on my trip down the Sunshine Coast with one of my “besties”, Kate in early in September, and I wanted to ask him what “product” he used.  My beard is not quite as nicely developed, but then again, I pluckIMG_3760

Anne has taken off for a holiday to the east….Ontario and Newfoundland.  What I thought was going to be a few weeks, has morphed into a two month journey for her! She is returning this weekend with a new Jack Russell puppy named Lola.  Should be interesting when she and Sidney meet.

My Mom has been my house guest for a month now since a pipe burst in her bathroom ( in our home across the road) resulting in a midnight move and a total house reno… asbestos discovered and flooring ruined.  So I had hardly put away my rollers and paint trays from Anne’s place, when I decided it was a good time to paint the entire interior of her house.  Hours of painting have shown me that I have some arthritic changes in my knees and hands.

Achy joints are new to me. I am not sure if it is treatment-related or just old age.  Maybe a combination of the two. I also know that my months of inactivity during my treatments did me no favours. My energy levels are acceptable and I am sleeping well. So all is good.

In fact all is GREAT!  We have booked a trip to celebrate my TWO year anniversary next April.

A seven day cruise through French Polynesia. (Of course in a VERANDAH SUITE STATEROOM) to be followed by a week in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora…in a “Diamond Room” at the end of the pontoons….

My bucket list reduce by one and our bank account reduced by MANY!!!

 

So fall has arrived, summer is over and we will ready ourselves for Hallowe’en and Christmas.  We may take a week mid winter to go to Hawaii “just because” , but my heart and mind are already in Bora Bora.

Kickin’ it.

 

 

Happy Anniversary

Well here it is April 27th… eleven months since my first journal entry.

I started the journal one month after I got the call from radiology that “they found something”. So in fact…. this is my ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY.  To celebrate (?) I had my first diagnostic mammogram since last year. Yay.

Boy, I do know how to rip ‘er up eh? HAHA!  OK. That was sad.  I should be happier.

WHOOPTY-FREAKIN’ DO!  (Imagine loud horns, crowds cheering, or church bells ringing.) There. THAT’s better.

I am drawing to what I hope is a close of this chapter in my journey.  I am considering putting it together in a published format (at the encouragement of  few Tit-O-Whirl groupies) in the hope that it just might make someone else who has been given a ticket a little less frightened of their ride. And those who have not been issued (yet and hopefully never) a ticket can perhaps have a better idea of what others may be going through.

I met a friend on my walk today and as we walked, we chatted about how quickly the year has flown by.  Inside, I was thinking, ” I wish I could say that it flew”.

Fly? No.  For me, it kind of staggered, crawled, snuck, dragged, skulked, and tip-toed.  There were even times when I swear it almost stood still.

But now, I am returning to me. I am energized and enjoying the heavy yard work, walking, helping my sister Anne plan her new house renovations  for later this summer, seeing some hair grow, being with Mom for the hockey playoffs (missing Dad), and booking dinner and show reservations for  our trip to New York and Washington next week.  I have had (thankfully) no further murderous thoughts or mood swings, my weight is coming off, and my “tired” is a normal one at the end of the day.  God is in Her heaven, and all is right with my world.

At least it will be when I hear the “all clear” from my mammogram.

And I know that this will be at a yearly event/ anniversary that I will fearfully hold my breath for and then (hopefully) celebrate quietly by myself as I mark a calendar in my head.  Or maybe acknowledge it with a text to a few other ticket holders who have similar anniversaries of their own. I am anxious to just have the second hand of the clock tick tock at a more “normal speed” that allows me to see clearly what is around me.  Behind me, to the side and definitely in front of me.

I do not want to live in the “world of cancer” anymore.  Enough with the articles, the research papers, the invitations for cancer fundraisers,  or the Face Book “share the candle for cancer” shit.  It was always there before, I know.  It was just easier to ignore it then.  I am so looking forward Dave and my trip away.  Freedom!! I am way too excited at the thought of having some NEW and hopefully funny stories to share!

They say that the first wedding anniversary gift is paper.  I don’t know what the first anniversary for cancer should be.

Maybe the anniversary is the actual gift.

You can’t wrap it up in a box, but it sounds pretty good to me and I am more than grateful for it.

 

And THAT, dear reader, is the entire year of my journey through “the ride”. I may continue to journal, but for a while at least, I am stepping away and getting on with…..

 

Life.

 

Stop by any day around three for a cocktail.

 

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hammering it Home

I had an awful day yesterday.  I will journal it only so that I may look back for comparison if it should happen again. I am guessing it was hormone related but I will examine THAT in a bit.  First let me try to describe the “awful”.

I awoke yesterday (April first) thinking what seemed like a gazillion random thoughts.

“Man….I HAVE to start getting rid of some of this extra weight.”; “What am I going to wear out for dinner this evening?”; ” I wonder if I really have to go?”; ” I really have to get at the yard work today.”; “I have to check my calendar and make sure ALL my appointments for April are on there so I don’t double book or miss any appointments.”; “Where is the dog?” ; “I wish I could find my frigging keys…” ( I misplaced/lost them over a week ago)  were just a few that I could remember. As I said, there were a GAZILLION.

I do remember feeling odd. Not connected. Not “together”. Spacey.  Slightly annoyed. But at nothing in particular. Not able to focus.

As usual, I got up at about 6:30, fed the dog, got him out for his morning ablutions, and when I came back to bed, I might have been hoping to go back to sleep and wake up again on the “right side of the bed”.

But Dave had the TV on.  Which is nothing really unusual. What was unusual was how my annoyance morphed into anger. I hardly EVER go back to sleep, but the fact that he had the TV on would assure that I wouldn’t.  Then he fell asleep in front of me.  I wished for a hammer. For him and then for the TV.

And so my day began. And ended. I went all day not finding one bit of HAHA.  Everything I touched seemed to not work, break, smack me back, or just piss me off.

The poor dog got dragged, jerked, sworn at, smacked, and berated for doing what he always does. Pull me on the walk.  It was just that yesterday, it seemed SO unacceptable.  And he seemed to be just doing to on purpose.

My sister Anne was quiet as she walked with us and I think knew that I was in a foul mindset.  (We usually gab up a storm).

When I got home, I thought, I will stop. Breathe. Do something for me. Focus.

Trying to get Weight Watchers set up “on line” proved to be beyond my ability.  All it did was piss me off.  Two hours wasted (even with Anne trying to help).  Where do I find the fucking point value for food? How am I going to go and buy food if I don’t know what their points are?  Stupid fucking website. They have my credit card number and I have shit. My head was pounding and I started to cry.  Then I decided check my blood pressure.  155/94.  Not good.  I felt almost nauseous.

Anne left with advice for me “relax”.  I have NO idea what gave her the impression I was not relaxed.  She is very intuitive.  I can laugh now, but I wanted to take a hammer to her yesterday.  She will read this and I hope understand….

Just leave it, I thought, and go out to do some yard work.

It helped a little, but I was positively brutal with the clippers and shears.  I looked back and decided that before I clear cut the yard of all greenery, I had better take a break.  Maybe try and walk the dog again.

Then Anne sent me a text with a picture of some bread she had made (I was annoyed that she was being so productive….) inviting me to have some of it while it was still warm. Since I couldn’t figure how many fucking points the bread was, and it was almost three o’clock, I thought I may as well have a cocktail with it. Fuck Weight Watchers.  I should take a hammer to them.

All the thoughts about hammer-usage may have lowered my diastolic pressure a bit at the time and give me some dark relief, but it served no real healthy purpose. In stead I decided to think about what the hell could be causing this emotional tail spin?

It HAS to be part of the Tit-O-Whirl ride.  The Tamoxifen.  How foolish I was in thinking that I would avoid side effects from “evil Tammy Foxen”.  I decided make an appointment to see Dr. Google tomorrow when I would have more time because I had to get ready to go out, and I wanted to take my time doing my searching and reading. I took a huge chance and chose not to write the appointment on my calendar.

We went out for dinner to a retirement party for our local MLA which I did not enjoy  very much.  Got home and I went straight to bed. Still annoyed, but less so than earlier in the day.  I thought, “Dave had better not turn on the TV in the morning” ….but I didn’t say anything out loud. Then I dealt with twitchy legs for an hour before finally falling to sleep.

This morning I visited Dr. Google.  But what the actual…..?  Breast Cancer.org (my “go-to” website) says:

Tamoxifen Does Not Affect Sexual Functioning or Mood Swings. Contrary to speculation, long-term use of tamoxifen (Nolvadex) does not affect mood or sexual functioning, according to British researchers who studied the use of this antiestrogenic drug in women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer.”

Shit.  But wait…further down in the SAME article, it states : “Side effects of Tamoxifen include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, fatigue, and nausea.”  (Fucking British scientists. Make up your fucking minds will you? Don’t make me get the hammer….)

And THESE are the thought I have when I am not in a mood swing! HAHAHA!

So I continue to read: (my thoughts that follow are not in italics)

Managing Mood Swings:

(OR : How To Avoid Committing Manslaughter) 

  • Identify and avoid sources of stress that can cause changes in mood.

(The hard part is “identifying and avoiding sources of stress”.  This is difficult when the stress is being driven by pharmaceuticals that you are taking in the hopes of living longer. I am open to suggestion as to how to NOT be pissed off at your husband or dog wanting to breathe in and out….)

  • Exercise can help relieve stress, focus your energy, and balance your emotions, all of which can help ease mood swings.

THIS one I get. Since hammers are not usually allowed in Zumba classes, I shall focus  my energy on working out at home and picking up my pace. (Plus, since I lost my car keys it’s harder to drive anywhere to exercise classes…. I am waiting for a new key fob.)

  • Get plenty of rest. If your sleep is disrupted or you don’t get enough sleep, you may find that you’re anxious, angry, and irritable.

No shit Sherlock! I will be hiding the TV remote for the bedroom in the morning.  Maybe NOT in the toolbox.

  • Eat healthy snacks and small meals throughout the day to give you energy and keep your insulin levels constant. Hunger and varying blood sugar levels can trigger mood swings.

I did have a healthy dinner and I did feel less nauseated and more focused afterwards….so maybe Weight Watchers is a good place to start. (I had my lovely niece Sarah walk/talk/guide me through setting up my iPhone Weight Watchers App and it really is quite cool.)  I found where the food points can be found….so my dietary world is turning smoothly again….

Check. Meditation. Increase spa visits. Be complimentary. (HAHA!)  No hammers.

  • Talk about your emotions with friends, a counselor, or your doctor to help you deal with them appropriately. 

I did talk about my emotions (a bit) to Dave and (more) to Anne and a friend I ran into at the party….(Thanks Kathy!)  It didn’t really help my stress, but now that I am fairly confident in it’s cause, it will be easier to clarify to others how I am feeling.  Hopefully it will not be required daily.

I realize today (the day AFTER) that had I been prepared, I could have actually done most of the things recommended and had a MUCH better day.

I also realize that those little white pills that I consume daily are no “April Fools” joke. It is serious stuff.  And it may be messing with me from time to time, so I have to be READY.

And THAT point was hammered home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Ride By Any Other Name

I am not sure how to begin this journal entry.  But here goes.

About a year ago, my life screamed to a halt with a phone call. A complete stranger telling me that they have “found something” on my mammogram that they want to look at more closely.

Wham!  I found myself on “a ride through a looking glass” that I had never, in my wildest dreams, imagined I would have been a participant.

But I survived it. The ride.  The Tit-O -Whirl that spat me out the other side with what I can only describe as an “altered self”.  I did everything asked of me by the cancer specialists.  The professionals who design and run the ride for those of us who have been sent a ticket.

I am at the point now where all I want to do is to “return”.  Return to me. Return to days of no “cancer talk”. Return to days where I have a mind that recalls shit that I heard twenty minutes ago. Return to energy levels that I do not have to plan rest before I go out for an evening. Just every day shit that I so took for granted before that phone call.

I thought I was getting closer. But today set me back some steps.

Today I was in a local grocery store with my sister and ahead of me in the check out was a friend I haven’t seen for several months.  Back when I had x-rays done.  (She works in the admitting area of the x-ray department of our local hospital.)

I first met her well over fifteen years ago when I was setting up and managing a private surgery centre. She interviewed for a job as a clerical/office staff member.

I hired her because I felt could “see” her soul. She was one of “those” people who, when you meet them, you just quickly get a feeling of….connection. You feel it solidly and surely.  Its weird ….but it IS like you may have known them before. In another time.

I can’t really describe it, but she had a nervous and beautiful smile. (Great teeth….which is something I always notice in people…. after their shoes.) Very unsure  (unaware ?) of her own strength and capability. She was rather inexperienced for the job….but it was just what I wanted. I passed over more experienced people who had applied because I wanted someone who was ready to simply learn and be part of a new team. I loved how hard she worked. (To the point that I had to “force” her to take her breaks….)

I left the surgical centre after two years, looking for more “balance” in my life and shortly after, she was reassigned to the private MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imager)  associated with the surgical centre.  She eventually ended up in the x-ray department of the local hospital where I know she is extremely well respected. After I left the centre we met for lunch on a couple of occasions and I still see her from time to time at the hospital.

I was pleasantly surprised to see her ahead of me in the check out and pointed her out to my sister as “there is a really nice woman who used to work with me in the private surgery centre.”  I leaned over and waved to catch her eye to say “hello”.

She flashed the same great toothy smile and squeezed back through the checkout to give me a hug.

Then, (just like a year ago when I took the phone call as I walked my dog, and then again when two of my other friends told me about their breast lumps) my world jumped the rails and skidded sideways. She told me she had “joined the team”.  Endometrial cancer. She has surgery this week.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Shit.

So back on the ride. Even though it’s not MY ride, I feel I am beside her as she spins. I hope she knows that. But her ride is sadly, just that.  HER ride. Parts of her journey will only have room for one. But much of it will be able to be shared.

I am confident that she will be, like me, surrounded by strong shoulders, big hearts and those who will simply “be there”.  Some will have been on the ride as well, and some will have not.  It doesn’t matter.

And I hope my friend knows that when she finds herself in need of those shoulders, hearts and hands, she will easily find us.  And we will NOT tilt our heads.

 

 

Bitch, Bitch, (Update), Bitch

Wow….hard to believe that I haven’t written since mid February! I have been busy with health follow-ups and happily charging around house hunting with my sister.

My radiation burns have all healed and the dry, scaly skin on my clavicle and back has almost completely disappeared. My fingernails, interestingly, have suddenly gone surprisingly brittle and six out of the ten have broken by being looked at sideways. Then of course, (since I never have a god-damned file nearby, and am too lazy to go get one)  I spend half an hour picking at and chewing the raggedy nail until it almost bleeds leaving it looking like “a dog’s breakfast”. Hangnails and raggedy chewed nails. Lovely eh?

The hair on my head resembles an old man’s pubic hair. Soft, sparse, curly, very grey and decidedly unattractive. I looked better bald. Everyone tells me they think it’s “growing in fast”….but I see little difference in over a month. What if it stays this way?  Jesus.

My eyebrows and eye lashes have begun to return quite nicely.  They are being more cooperative than the scraps on my head.  (I may need “nice eyes” if I am to try and distract people from looking upward….)

Even my pubic and chin hairs have made a re-appearance.  And they are of course thick and dark black.  Mother-fucking-nature. She is a twisted shit.

My weight is still clinging to my abdomen, thighs and behind.   Mind you, I am really not dieting in any way, shape or form so I have no one to blame for that.

But I will. HAHA!  It’s the dexamethasone “they” said.  It will go after your chemo stops and you get back to normal “they” said. Don’t worry about it “they” said.  If I wasn’t so weighed down by “it” I would kick “they’s” ass.

It has been two months since I had my last chemo and a whopping three pounds have melted away.  Dave says “at least it has stopped increasing”..but while I was in Victoria he replaced our double bed with a king sized one. (He compliments oddly sometimes…)  Making the gargantuan bed takes me close to twenty minutes of grunting and swearing as I try to lift a king-sized duvet and coverlet by myself.  Dave seems to feel that HIS job is done by installing it. I told him that I am too tired from making the bed to have sex in it. HAHA! ( I have an odd way of saying thank you at times….)

I had my bone density done and surprisingly have “normal” bone mass. My Mom is the poster child for osteoporosis and has dealt with numerous fractures through the past twenty years. (NOT a nice aging process.) So even though I was border-line osteoporitic some years back and was on the bone-saver drug Fosamax for fifteen years, I will thankfully not be needing it for now.  I will keep up my calcium and Vitamin D.

My eye check up went well and there has been no change to my prescription, but the ophthalmologist noted that I have the “start” of cortical cataracts.  Prolonged use of corticosteroids (dexamethasone) can cause them.  So can growing old and smoking.  Again, I will blame the dexamethasone. HAHA!

So I am guessing that George Lucas knew someone who had been on the tit-0-whirl when he created Jabba the Hutt. We bear an uncanny resemblance at the moment. (Me and Jabba, not me and Mr. Lucas….although George and I do share a nice bit of chin hair….

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Curious….

I am now almost a month on Tamoxifen and so far, no side effects to address.  It may be evil Tammi who is slowing my weight loss. ( It couldn’t possibly be the chinese food I had for supper…..could it?  Naw….it’s the hormone.) I have the occasional night sweat and some residual fatigue, but I was having those before my cancer was even diagnosed so it’s time for me to stop making excuses and get busy.

Tasks beckon. I have cleaned out drawers and purged a ton of stuff.  I even found a pack of smokes and almost wept as I threw out my old (and likely stale, I kept reminding myself) friend. Yard work will begin in full swing in a week or two and I plan to “give ‘er”.

I am also thinking that I will be busy when Anne needs a hand to get moved. I look forward to it.

I have a final appointment in about a month with the medical oncologist and another with the radiology oncologist in April. Then my GP will take over the responsibility of Jabba’s health care needs.

At the end of April, I will have the distinct pleasure of observing and marking my one-year anniversary since my admission to the Tit-O Whirl ride with a diagnostic mammogram.

My plan is to be ship-shape by the end of April. (And I don’t mean Titanic.)

I WILL get off this ride.

 

 

 

 

Giving My Spirit Guides A Rest

Well, I am home and my “Radiation Vacation” is officially over.  After a three hour drive back from Victoria (over icy and water covered roads) with my sister capably behind the wheel, we made it home. It felt wonderful to pull into the yard and even the sight of two feet of snow crushing all my shrubs and tender perennials to the ground couldn’t take away my smile.

Much like my other holidays, I am moisturizing almost-burnt flesh. My right shoulder and chest are very pink, tender/ itchy and there is a six inch-long burn that has (only now) materialized across my clavicle where the radiation was aimed at lymph nodes.

I am feeling very disconnected at the moment. That’s the best way I can describe it. My brain is telling me “it’s over, you are done, get busy living again”.  But there is a gap between what I know and what I feel. I am feeling not ready (?),  able (?), wanting (?) to do much.

Other than rest.  And give my overworked spirit guides  a well-deserved break.

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Oh I have LOTS of things to do….but all mundane housekeeping stuff that has been put off for 6-7 months. Cleaning out closets/drawers, purging cards (greeting/ get-well/ birthday/ condolence/ Christmas et al) , doing video work, backing up computer files, organizing and deleting all sorts of duplicated cancer related stuff off my laptop. That kind of stuff.

I am going to give myself a month or two to get at it and clear my plate. I also want to give myself time to decide just what it is I plan to do with the rest of my life.

Or at least the next few years of my life.

I started that new path the day after I got home, on February 9th.  I started taking my first hormone (Tamoxifen) and I got back on a daily vitamin supplement, an Omega 3 fish oil,  a calcium/magnesium/vitamin D, K and blueberry liquid and a daily probiotic pill (all that had been held off while undergoing radiation on the advice of the oncologist).

This brings me to describe the second hormone I will be having after three years of Tamoxifen.

Exemestane (trade name Aromasin) is a member of the class of drugs known as aromatase inhibitors. Some breast cancers (mine) require estrogen to grow. Those cancers have estrogen receptors (ERs), and are called ER-positive. They may also be called estrogen-responsive, hormonally-responsive, or hormone-receptor-positive. Aromatase is an enzyme that makes estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors block the synthesis of estrogen. This lowers the estrogen level, and slows the growth of cancers.

Exemestane 25 mg/day for 2–3 years apparently has been shown to be “generally” (love these uninspiring descriptions….) more effective than 5 years of continuous adjuvant tamoxifen in the treatment of postmenopausal women with early-stage estrogen receptor-positive status breast CA.

Side effects include (but of course are never only limited to): anxiety; back, joint, muscle, or limb pain; constipation; coughing; diarrhea; dizziness; flu-like symptoms; hair loss; headache; hot flashes; increased or decreased appetite; increased sweating; nausea; stomach pain or upset; tiredness; trouble sleeping; weight gain; vomiting.  (I am supposing that the weight gain might be minimal if the vomiting is present….)

Along with other aromatase inhibitors or anabolic steroids, Exemestane is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances.  My olympic hopes for any sport have now been summarily and utterly dashed.

So I will have to continue my weight loss through conventional methods rather than my planned use of the parallel bars or hurdles.  I will also spend the next months deciding what type of other activities I want to put into my days to bring me joy and purpose.

After my spirit guides have had their power nap, I will be once again calling upon them to light my path into a future that will hopefully be long and exciting.

I am leaning towards learning to play the fiddle, volunteering in a bird sanctuary, taking a master gardeners’ course, travelling around the globe, and focusing more on family and friends.

I plan to keep journaling as I have found it to be not only enjoyable, but a really good way of focusing my energy.  I may not make entries as often ( or I may do more…who knows?)  I may consider publishing but most of my entries would need serious editing and then it kind of loses the spirit of the journey.

But for now, rest it shall be. Sleep well spirit guides….the best is yet to come.

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