Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Health Update for June-uary

(If you don't get the title of this post, you obviously don't live in Portland.  It's the middle of June and I wore a GoreTex jacket, shoe covers and a wool hat to commute this morning.)

Enough with the recent existential whining.  Here is the latest on the nuts and bolts cancer stuff.

First, congratulations to me for hitting my 100 day mark as a cancer survivor.  On my 33rd birthday, no less. 

Second, five chemo happy hours down, three to go.  I am now on a new drug, Taxol.  So far, Taxol has been much easier to deal with, primarily because Taxol does not cause nausea.  As I'm on the third consecutive week of being able to eat on a normal schedule, I've gained back all of the weight that I lost when I got sick six weeks ago.  All of this has conveniently reappeared in my gut region.  Hellooooo, chemo potbelly.  Hellooooo, stretchy skirts and empire waist sundresses. 

I refuse to be totally accountable for this, and almost have myself convinced that part of the weight gain is attributable to the fact that the chemo is fucking with my ability to poop on a regular basis.  This has become one of my daily cancer patient gripes.  So much so that I might have to turn this blog into "Confessions of the Bald and Chronically Constipated."  Thirty-three is entirely too young of an age to be figuring out how to incorporate prune juice and Miralax into one's daily smoothie.  But so it goes.  

Taxol's major side effect (other that fatigue) is muscle aches and joint pain.  So far, all of this has been manageable with rest, Advil, Epsom salt bathes and staying warm.  The weather, of course, is not cooperating with the latter strategy and I have taken to wearing a thick wool stocking cap and wool socks in my office to compensate.

Some of the expected side effects are becoming more pronounced.  I am officially anemic, but my blood numbers have been outstanding otherwise.  My skin is dry enough that my face now soaks up shea butter hand cream and my nails are splitting.  I also have some sort of member of the mushroom family taking up residence on my left hand.  Its not exactly the same fungus as last summer, but still....fungus.  Nasty.  So now, in addition to the wool hat and socks, I am wearing a latex glove on my left hand to keep the fungus cream on my hands and off of my keyboard.    I look and feel like a crazy person, only one step away from the guy in front of my office building that wears a sleeping bag like a cape.  

Now for the fun, unexpected side effects.  First, I am a walking, talking booger factory.  All of my nose hairs fell out, so my nose drains constantly and any debris in the air collects on the inside of my nose in solid form.  (Surprisingly, so far I still have my eyelashes and enough eyebrow to get by without an eyebrow pencil.) I have boogers that will randomly fall out of my nose when I am talking to people.  This is really sexy and not at all distracting.  But, however, not as sexy and distracting as:

The Franken-eye.

This is the name I have given my left eye.  Something about chemo has made my eyes very dry and sticky, therefore causing them to stick shut when I blink.  So please do not be alarmed if we're having a normal conversation and quite suddenly I look like Sloth from the Goonies.  Just give me a minutes to manually open my eye and pretend like nothing unusual is happening.


I met with a radiation oncologist last week and have that stage of my treatment tentatively scheduled.  Because I haven't had any setbacks or blood work issues, the doctor was willing to bump up my start date eleven days (July 31) and increase my daily dosage such that I will be done (D-O-N-E) with treatment the day before I leave for Cycle Oregon.  This pleases me to no end.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Re-Entry Woes.

So where have I been lately? That's a question with no easy explanation. I'll start with my weekly Free Will horoscope:

"If you have long conversations with the image in the mirror this week, I won't call you a megalomaniacal narcissist. Nor will I make fun of you if you paint 15 self-portraits, or google yourself obsessively, or fill an entire notebook with answers to the question "Who am I, anyway?" In my astrological opinion, this is an excellent time for you to pursue nosy explorations into the mysteries of your core identity. You have cosmic permission to think about yourself with an intensity you might normally devote to a charismatic idol you're infatuated with."

The mysteries of core identity. Who am I anyway?

I might not be having long conversations in the mirror, but I sure have been talking to myself a lot lately.

Figuring out who we are is often referred to as a process of "finding oneself." For me, it feels more like a process of elimination. Take all of the things I could possible be and gather them up. Some of the identities were easy to get rid of. Some of them I had to experience to realize whether they fit or not. Some of them I didn't realize existed until after experiences of extreme joy or fear.

Being diagnosed with cancer was like having my existing slate wiped almost completely clean. Which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse.

In the times BC (before cancer), I lived this frenetic, competitive, structured existence that I thought suited me to a "T". I did what I thought I was supposed to do: college, law school, got a good white-collar job. I got married (and yes, divorced), bought a place to live and incurred some good old fashioned American debt. I trained and raced and won things. Life was a whirlwind of billable hours, training rides, take-out and happy hour.

I thought I had everything I wanted. But after spending the last few months thinking about other things and doing other things, it is apparent that this pre-BC existence won't work for my in the times post-BC. The times where the simplest things are making me the happiest: cooking, sewing, reading, spending time with friends and moving my body just for the sake of moving.

Instead of being a liberating thought, this scares me to death. Since I went back to work and realized that the break has not reawakened any enthusiasm for my current career, there are frequent moments where I'm paralyzed by dead and anxiety. Thirty-three year old women should not tear up with dread at the thought of being lonely and bored in their offices. Yet, this is exactly what I did on Monday morning.

Knowing that things need to change is easy. Figuring out what to do next is terrifying. But something has to give. I know that I would be wasting my newly discovered (and precious)state of cancer enlightenment if I just went back to the status quo at the end of treatment. And the status quo will not keep me healthy in the long-run. I am sure of that.

People change careers all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME. They go back to school and start businesses and write books. They take risks despite the odds. There is nothing about who I am that makes this impossible for me. I might not feel like I have many useful skills, but I can learn to do anything...I can write a book, run a bike shop, rule the world, own the Internet...if I can get out of my own way long enough to get started

So here's the Catch-22. While cancer has given me the gift of enlightenment, is is also a big impediment to following through on change. I have to keep my health insurance and need a steady stream of income to pay for food, my mortgage and what will be a lifelong stream of doctor's bills. And my chronic bike habit...nothing about that will ever change.

I've talked about this with a couple of people this week and they both pointed out that getting physically healthy should be my first priority right now, that the lifestyle changes will work themselves out. This is true, but getting healthy means not only becoming cancer free, but getting my other ducks in a row so that I am happy, anxiety-free and, ultimately, stay cancer-free. And procrastinating and doing nothing is not exactly moving me in the right direction.