Saturday, April 13, 2013

Defcon 3 Hairlessness and Beauty

At nearly the end of my sixth month of chemotherapy, I fear I am steadily reaching the apex of hairlessness. I have exactly seven lower eyelashes remaining, all under my left eye. I have a patch of right eyebrow missing and the rest have dwindled down to a mid-90s minimum. Though something resembling lint has grown in random clumps all over my head over the two months I was getting only Taxol -- kinky and colorless like dust bunnies -- I'd be willing to guess that it will fall out after next Tuesday's Avastin/Taxol combo platter.

Four years ago, I rocked that Naked Ape look driving up and down Lake Shore Drive five days a week for radiation at Northwestern. I was bitter and pressed for time, trying to balance the increased workload springtime brings with not being late for my appointment so I wasn't late for letting the nanny go at the end of the day. At the same time, just as fast as it all completely disappeared, because I was no longer on any chemotherapy, I could begin to see the pale sketch of eyebrows returning. I had short, bristly lashes that would hold mascara, too. Last and most gloriously, I enjoyed my new gamine pixie of dark blonde curls. Curls! And blonde, too! That was a fun parting gift, perfectly timed for summer.

Now, what do I do? I'm hanging on to the last of what makes me appear mammalian, and it's starting to look really tragic. This wig looks butchered beyond repair and the only way to balance out the fakeness is by working my stage makeup skills. Add control garments to encase my growing girth and artfully tied scarves to hide my healing port scars, and I feel like a transvestite.

Hopefully the results of my next scan will make being hideous for a little bit longer worthwhile, but unless my Fairy Godmother comes soon bringing me free Zeltiq treatments and a three-week vacation on a tropical island inhabited only by blind people, I had better figure out a way to be comfortable with my appearance.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crash Course on My Cancer

I haven't been here in a long, long time but I've been yearning to write, especially about what's happening with my cancer, and I think this is a good repurposing of Ye Olde Blogger for me. A Caring Bridge site didn't appeal to me -- it's clunky and I tend to associate it with terminal cancer (perhaps wrongfully so, or maybe I am just full of too much hubris). I also didn't feel like loading up everyone's Facebook newsfeeds with updates either. I know some people look forward to scrolling through puppy posts, cherubic babies, and triumphant dancers hoisting trophies as their little dose of happy with their morning coffee so I don't feel like foisting my day-to-day cancer issues on everyone. Maybe that's wrong but this feels right to me. At the same time, I know some of my friends and family like knowing what's up but don't know how to ask, and they feel cut off if I don't include how I'm doing on Facebook all the time. Due to all of these factors, I have downloaded the Blogger app to my phone and plan to let my over-sharing nature run wild. Please feel free to comment or lurk as you see fit. Get ready!

So...hmmm.. how to start. I suppose a good way would be to dispel some confusion about my cancer. I envy those of you who have never needed a crash course in cancer stages and treatment, and I will explain here just how friggin' dastardly cancer is.

My cancer is indeed breast cancer, not liver cancer. Though my breasts were removed in 2008 and I underwent adjuvant chemotherapy over four months after that, followed by six weeks of radiation and three and a half years of hormone therapy to block a reoccurrence, the cancer still managed to circle the wagons on my liver. Since the three tumors I had were isolated to the breast tissue and my sentinel lymph nodes (the first ones in line to absorb any cancer coming out of the breast) were cancer-free, I was labeled Stage IIa and that means the assumption is that it was isolated. Maybe it had already trickled into my liver then, maybe it was just circulating in my blood, who knows? When my largest tumor in my liver was biopsied this fall, the sample showed markers that indicated it was indeed breast cancer. Anyway, what I have now is liver metastasis, and that makes me Stage IV. Stage IV doesn't always mean terminal; it means that it has proven itself to be aggressive enough to leap to other organs and grow. It is believed to be everywhere, just driving through the neighborhood, assessing curb appeal and looking for open houses.

As such, a liver transplant isn't an option. Such a surgery would compromise my health (and take a liver from someone who really needs only a liver) only to have the cancer either pop up there again Whac-A-Mole style or grow somewhere else, requiring chemotherapy that would be even more debilitating now with an implanted liver. There's no cutting it out either since the organ is pretty much shot through with it. Even the larger tumors are confluent, meaning they're sort of connected to one another. The only option is to use two chemotherapies -- one that keeps new blood vessels from forming and the other that keeps fast-growing cells from dividing -- to kill these pieces of shit.

Chemotherapy doesn't make me vomit. There are some chemos that are more emetogenic (meaning they will make you puke) and I was on those four years ago, but I was given the antiemetic big guns for starters and if those didn't work, there were more. I never puked or even felt nauseated beyond what could be treated with a glass of ginger ale.

What I am being treated with now does, however, make me feel shitty in other ways. Over six months, I've had mouth sores, an infected parotid gland, daily bloody noses, a tongue that can't taste, fingertips that feel like nonstop pins-and-needles, and fungal infections in my toenails and fingernails. There's loss of hair (everywhere), loss of appetite, loss of memory, loss of muscle mass, loss of hormonal function, loss of menses, loss of libido, and loss of emotion. I know all you pretty young things out there think not having a period is a blessing, but after two pregnancies preceded by being on the Pill, I became attuned to the incredible ebb and flow of natural hormonal tides and how they affected my personality, productivity, creativity, and interest in the opposite sex. I'll take a dumb ol' period to get that back. Meanwhile, I am an emotionless cyborg, full of implanted devices from tip to tail and no interest in the human basic needs beyond sleep.

What having chemo feels like is similar to a day-old flu. When I get home on Tuesdays, the Benadryl has started to wear off and I'm ramped up from the steroids, but I just want to lie down because I start to have body aches, a headache, and just that general fluish miasma of yuck. Then I can't sleep because DECADRON! When I finally get up on Wednesday, my face is all swollen, hot and red and I have a sore throat. Thursday is better and Friday is better still, but the fatigue is cumulative. My heart rate is elevated very easily so I wear out quickly. I usually try to exercise on Monday, but being on the elliptical at half my normal resistance at my typical speed means my heart rate goes up to 182. Get why I'm tired all the damn time?

I do not know if/when I will be done with chemo. I will continue to be on chemo until there is No Evidence of Cancer (or NED). I have a CT scan and a bone scan every three cycles to see how things are cooking in there and if anything is popping up elsewhere. A cycle, for me, is Avastin and Taxol on Days 1 and 15, just Taxol on Day 8, and then a week off. Today I am at Cycle 6/Day 9 so I will plan my scans over my week off in two weeks. Today is the day I have a red bloated face, much different than the smiling and freshly shorn Cycle 1 me on my Facebook Profile Pic.

Okay, that was a sufficiently lengthy post to get you up to speed. Time to force-feed myself water and close my eyes... Spring is coming!