Post-Chemo Brain Reboot

December 5, 2009 at 5:13 PM (Energy, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s really amazing how my life has changed since October 8. I guess I’ve been on chemo or some other drug for enough months out of the past four years that I got used to being dulled around the edges. Like the aerator grill in my faucet had filled up with sediment, and the water that flowed was slowed to a trickle.

I’m not sure how much of my mental slowdown can be attributed to chemo brain and how much was due to my persistent, really frustrating fatigue. Anyone on chemo will tell you that forgetfulness becomes a way of life, and that you should probably put off your appearance on Jeopardy! until your hair grows back, if you’re really serious about winning. When you’re chemo-tired, and living your day from one sleep to the next (and there were definitely days like that), the last thing you have the energy for is coming up with a good blog topic or a killer craft to rock the next birthday party. But there’s also the possibility that the ass-kicking-name-taking process took most of the mental focus that I had outside of the eternal “what’s-for-dinner?” dilemma, and I completely lost all memory of being a smart person.

Now that I’m on the miracle drug, and my hair is growing in, and my body is (mostly) back under my control, it’s as if someone has CLR-ed my faucet and the water is running again. I wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking of things I’d like to do. Projects I’d like to complete. (Not just start, but complete!) Dishes I’d like to cook. Things I could make for Christmas presents. Stuff to write about. And when I wake up in the morning, I can actually remember the things I thought of in the dark.

I’m almost overwhelmed at the different trains of thought that I can keep track of at any given time. My mental soundtrack has been one or two notes simple for so long, I’d forgotten what it felt like to hear the full melody, harmony, counterpoint and rhythm rolling along with it. And far from being confused by the din, I’m enjoying hearing all the different notes, thinking about them individually, planning how to work on them, maybe even discarding them and moving on.

I’m not promising global domination, nor that my sedentary tendencies have been banished for good, but perhaps I’m starting to fit into these grown-up shoes I’ve been wearing for three-and-a-half years now. At least I’ll be better company at cocktail parties. And Alex Trebek should be quaking in his boots.

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Easy Cancer Port Access for the Chic

December 1, 2009 at 10:16 PM (Treatment) (, , , , , , , , )

When I sat down in the phlebotomist’s chair at The Cancer Factory for my blood draw on Friday morning, I unzipped my cardigan (very cute, gift from fab sister) and leaned back. The nurse was impressed that I had thought to wear a cardi and a scoop-neck (“Have you had a port before?” he asked – an odd time to feel smug), which allowed him to access my port (feels really odd) without my having to strip down, put on a johnny, etc. He said that some patients forget, in colder weather, and show up for treatment in turtlenecks.

Which got me thinking about an article that a friend of mine wrote in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She was profiling a company, Healing Threads, that was started by three sisters, all of whom were cancer patients, that makes clothing for people who are in the hospital, either for inpatient or outpatient treatments. The jackets and pants, made of stain-resistant microfiber, have easy-access panels with velcro closures that allow nurses, doctors, and physical therapists to examine or treat one area of the body while leaving the rest of the body covered.

The fashionista in me likes that, while they’re not exactly cutting-edge design, they do have an ageless Asian flair, with Mandarin collar and frog closures, that will never go out of style. The patient in me likes that someone thought about more than just accessing our ports, all the way to modesty, dignity, and staying warm. As I mentioned in the article, giving the patient a way to take control of even the tiiiiiiniest bit of their treatment, in what is essentially an uncontrollable disease process, can be immensely empowering and comforting. And, let’s admit it, we’re all control freaks to some extent. Who wouldn’t want more control, and to look cute at the same time? Flashing people is so 2008.

I wonder if they’ll ever make one in cashmere?

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November 25, 2009 at 9:14 PM (Energy, Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , )

Sleeping in. Someone else roasting the turkey. Modern pharmaceuticals. Muscle tone. Indian summer. Indoor plumbing. Unconditional love. Friends. Good friends. Friends who sit with you during chemo. Friends who send cards. Friends who send gifts. Friends who send couture. Shiraz.

Dogs. Cats. Saturday morning pancakes. Cashmere. Down comforters. October. May. The blindness of true love. Coldplay. Homemade pizza. Having enough energy to cook really good food. Christmas. The way my kids smell. Yoga. Naps. Clothes hot from the dryer. Parking in the garage. A clean house. Date night. Toddler giggles. The Bristol Lounge. A capella boys’ choirs. The internet. Diet Coke. Jude Law.

Second chances. Third chances. Seventh chances. Tireless medical researchers. A sense of humor. A great-shaped skull. Discount retailers. Shoe shopping. Walking in the woods. Every day. Netflix. Hot showers. Maho Bay. French fries. Really good wigs. Sunbathing. A good book. Or six. Freshly painted toenails. Comfortable high heels. Hugs.

Family. Family. Family. Family. Family. Gumption. Self-confidence. A good cry. Qualified therapists. A sympathetic ear. Backup. Permission to fail. Not wanting to.


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Seventh Time’s the Charm (Fingers Crossed)

November 23, 2009 at 7:24 PM (Energy, Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

I can’t believe it. Something worked! The results of last Friday’s CT scan are in, and while anecdotal (I won’t see the report until this Friday), I’m going to take the doctor’s “Your scans look better… good news all around” as a positive thing.

So let’s take stock: no symptoms (other than a mildly puffy left leg); declining fatigue; recovering cardiovascular fitness; renewed interest in culinary pursuits; hair growing in. One might be tempted to forget one has a medical problem.

Which seems to be a habit for me. Even when I’m down in the dumps, if I can just get the dog walked and the kids fed, maybe some grocery shopping done, I really have to remind myself (or step out of the shower and look in the mirror – yowza!) that I’m sick. So now that I’m starting to feel like a fully formed human being, that reminder every three weeks (and you can’t possibly visit The Cancer Factory without knowing you have a problem) might get increasingly annoying.

Rest assured, though, that I’m going. And adding Avastin to the top of my “Thanks” list! Let’s hope the fix keeps working; I could get used to this.

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November 12, 2009 at 7:09 PM (Hair) (, , , , , , , , )

It’s amazing how much of a woman’s identity is wrapped up in her hair. Even if it’s terrible hair, it’s still a defining characteristic. Can you imagine trying to describe someone without being able to talk about their hair? “She’s about my height, and she has lips and ears,  brown eyes. You know who I’m talking about, right?”

When I’m bald, I could be anyone, any ethnic derivation, any age. First thing in the morning, in my bathroom mirror, I could be  a hundred-year-old Chinese man. Late at night, in a dark room, maybe a little Yul Brynner around the eyes. Now that it’s growing in a wee bit, possibly sort of Sinead O’Connor, sans sunglasses. (Although I was hoping for G.I. Jane.)

But of all the things I’ve lost to cancer, I miss my eyelashes the most. Eyebrows can be penciled on; a good wig can fool most people into thinking I have hair. But you just can’t fake eyelashes. Even though dark lines of kohl on top and bottom lids come close, they lack the softness of a fringe of actual hairs. And have you ever tried a full line of artificial lashes? It looks like leggy caterpillars have parked on your eyelids. ::shudder::

The really odd part (I know, like there needs to be another one?) of being hairless is how you look in photographs. Even if your makeup and “hair” are perfect, there’s a shiny reflectiveness to your skin that the flash creates that strikes me as the real tell-tale of a chemo patient. Because your skin has lost all its hair, including the downy little hairs that cover the skin all over your body, especially your face, the naked skin looks greasy and plastic in pictures. No one warned me about that part: no matter how deft your hand at decoy, the picture tells a thousand words about what’s going on inside.

So now that the lashes/peach fuzz/brows are growing back (yea, shaving!), it’s so much easier to look like a girl. Don’t miss my curls yet, as my wig is so fabulous. But it’s such a delight to have lashes again. Keep your eyes peeled for excessive eyelid batting.

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Tick, tock.

November 4, 2009 at 10:40 PM (Age) (, , , , , , , )


If’ you’d asked me in 2006 whether I’d turn 38, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say “yes”. If you’d asked me in 2007 whether I’d turn 38, I would have hesitated.

When I was first diagnosed, I was so certain that my cancer was a one-time thing, a fluke, something to be excised, poisoned, and recovered from. Dust my hands off, grow my hair back, return to my regularly scheduled life. But once the first recurrence showed up and we scheduled my scary surgery for October, I was convinced I’d be gone by that Christmas. Started mentally divvying up my couture, regretting that I’d never get to embarrass my boys at their rehearsal dinners, wondering who would let the lonely cat sleep in their bed. So when that round was over, I was totally flummoxed. And we all know how much I loooove uncertainty. How long do I have?

No one on my medical team is willing to even take a stab in the dark at a prognosis. They all say we have lots of tools in my treatment arsenal, and plenty more coming down the pike. (Have I mentioned yet how much I adore being treated at D-F?) Since my lungs are now showing signs of (tiny, glacially-progressing) tumors, I’m starting to get an inkling of the way it’s going to go in a long-term sense. But how long?

These days, when someone’s diagnosed with Stage IIIc like I was, they have a 45% chance of living longer than five years. And with each recurrence, your percentage drops. So I have to admit that while I have never exactly been morbid, I am trying to be realistic. I certainly stopped worrying about the health of my IRA. (See? A little gallows humor never hurt anyone.)

Anyway, here I am at 38. In another 18 months, I’ll be one of the 45%. Since statistics-busting has been my m.o. from the start, I’m happy to keep the trend going. And maybe if I keep kicking ass I’ll come to really regret my adolescent sun-worshipping habits in my fifties and sixties.

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