Saturday, April 27, 2013

Another Chemo Grad ROCKS IT! Go Chris!

My chemo-comrad-cousin Chris (say that 3 times!) and I seem to have a lot in common these days. For one, we're clearly relatives. But this last year has brought us together in a different way - through cancer, surgeries, side effects and treatment. Me with a 3rd breast cancer diagnosis and him with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at 15. AND, recently, we finished our last treatments on the EXACT same day - March 26th! A day to remember! Woot! Woot!

His amazing mom (my first cousin) Deidre and I ritually texted each other this past year on treatment days with pics, "Chris ROCKS!" and "Number 12 - DONE!" texts! A year of closeness, perspective and cancer cheerleading that this disease has brought on.

And while Chris and my cancer journeys have been a mix of both similarities and differences, Chris and I mostly connected through cancer comparisons. With a quick hug and a head nod, we often and quickly fell into chit chat this past year about neuropathy, numbness in our toes, what foods grossed us out, our sleeping habits and of course remedies for nausea. One time, as we were sitting in his house on the couch while our band of caregivers were chatting it up and comparing OUR stats, I leaned over and whispered "Don't you like how they all talk about us like we're not even here?" He nodded and we both chuckled. But they all needed an outlet too as Chris and I forged on with hair loss and high-fives over our new fuzzy hair growth along with treatment and testing milestones.

Chris' cancer stats still blow me away (48 rounds of chemo, 1 surgery, 17 radiation treatments) even though I was deep in my own cancer trenches and stats. Deidre and I talked for months like we were medical personnel: "What are his blood count numbers this week?" "Can he take a Zofran with some crackers and water?" "When's his PET scan?"How many days will he have for his radiation boost?" "Who's your chemo nurse today?" A new world of communication that brought us two cousins closer together after years of intermittent visits and updates through family.

We laugh at our new cancer language yet often cursed it when we were angry or frustrated. But then quickly, we reminded each other to take a deep breath to refocus ourselves on what we now call our 'gratitudes' -  our health, our caregivers, our newfound perspective and treatments for a cure.

Chris also helped inspire us as usual as we watched his ongoing and quiet determination! As I struggled with fatigue and headaches, Chris quietly said he wanted to go back to school the day after his last treatment. And 2 days after his last radiation at Stanford, that's exactly what he did and showed up to baseball practice with his buddies as they watched him struggling to run around the bases. "Throw the ball down, Little Chris has no wheels!" But his first day of practice was done in usual Chris style as he played 5 innings while Deidre texted us his play-by-play action. We were all picking up our jaws as she was describing the return of Chris' 15 year old life and his favorite sport - baseball.

Oh how I sometimes wish I were a 15 year old boy!

In the meantime, Deidre, Hil and I talk endlessly about 'What now?' and how we are supposed to feel now that treatment is done.  But as we have learned over the past year-and-a-half, we could all use a little 'dose of Chris' as he hops back on the train of life. A boy of few words just carrying on with his teenage life, computer gaming, going to school when he can and catching the last fly ball of a recent game for the win!

BOOYAH Chris! You're my hero!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Herceptin # 18: The End of the Treatment Road

Wow...I don't even know where to begin on this one. I walked into the chemo room sick, with a fever and unprepared for the words "This is your last treatment." Thinking that I had one more according to my calendar schedule from Dr. G. it was evident that this was the alarming reality. The nurse liason quickly checked with my oncologist before coming back into the room with her proclamation as we all stared at her and waited with bated breath - "Yes, it's official, this is your last treatment!"

Silence. Gasp. "What?" Tears.

I couldn't believe it and reacted immediately by slapping the chemo chair arm and demanded that the nurse go back to Dr. G. with a message from me - "You go tell Dr. G. that I am NOT prepared for this!"

But as the Herceptin scheduling Gods would have it....this was indeed the end of the treatment road for me. Not knowing at all how to feel, the tears just started to slowly stream down my face as I looked into Hil's eyes. She knew that I had been dreading this day as it would be the transition to cancer independence. Along with the band of 'Purple Angels' chemo staff around me, I simply couldn't contain my tears, but thankfully and strangely, the ambiance was quite peaceful during this not-so-frequent occurrence - an empty chemo room.

Never in my year of treatment have I walked by or into that room being the sole patient as it was usually filled to the brim with people, yet this day I was. This further added to the somber and lonely feeling I quickly had when I received the news of this last treatment. Was the universe conspiring with me on this last day? I frankly didn't know how to feel as a flood of emotions welled up inside of me. Happy. Sad. Surprised. Shocked. Frantic.

Hil immediately started taking pictures, filming and hiding behind the camera as she too didn't know how to take the news. The chemo staff didn't blink an eye as they have become used to her filming and documenting my journey, but this day had her privately retreating behind the lens. The only thing she said she knew to do.

I was, as I professed at the onset of my treatment, utterly unprepared for this. All I wanted to do was to curl up into Martha's lap and cry my eyes out and never open them up again. The best chemo-purple-angel-humanitarian in THE world! happened that my last day of treatment was her birthday - a day I will never forget.

Then came a ray of sunshine that walked through the door by the name of Lorena, one of my new 'breast friends' that I've had the great pleasure of getting to know these past few months. Going through a second breast cancer diagnosis herself, I felt as if my reinforcement showed up just in the nick of time. LUV this gal and her spunky attitude! So we spent the remaining time, just the two of us in those chairs, laughing, crying and sitting in silence. Exactly what I needed.

Then, my other 'breast friend' Marion came in briefly to bring Hil and I some sweet treats - flourless, sugarless, dairy-free cookies. Wow, I was overcome by more love and support. A surprise visit, this other lovely is a special one too and someone I immediately connected with at her first chemo appointment a couple of months ago. More reinforcement in the form of love. Couldn't ask for anything more.

As for my final exit out of that room with hugs, love and tears, I held my new chest up high and walked out that door. Promising to come back as a 'Chemo Concierge' to pay it forward, I looked at the lovely Martha who said with her beautiful big smile - "Now get out and stay out!"

'We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us'
-E.M. Forster