The Weekly Schedule of a 34 year old Breast Cancer Patient (who is also a wife and a mother of 2 under 5.)

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I was a bit envious of those older breast cancer patients that would receive their treatments during the same time that I did. I would look over at them, slightly shaking my head thinking “Oh, how nice for you. After this, I bet you are going to just settle into a sweet little nap on a comfortable and peaceful outdoor hammock while eagerly falling asleep to the gentle tweeting of our local birdies.” Of course, any true judgment or jealously is realistically and quickly thrown out the window as I know with or without young children, going through Chemo, just plain sucks- for anyone, young or old.

However, being a young mom, I have a slightly different perspective that is worthy of being shared.

My schedule, thank God, was simplified because my angel of a mother-law and my own sweet mother helped with: Laundry, the kids, meal times, bathrooms, dishes, play dates, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, last minute medical needs, and the list could go on. Basically, everything that one would potentially need to manage life and the life of your family, I was able to pass on to one of these ladies with tremendous guilt. I see now how silly it was to feel that way.  It took me several weeks, maybe months to truly understand my inability to manage the basics. Especially when I was overwhelmed by the displaced emotions and insecurities related to the fact that, “I HAVE CANCER?!”

I did my best with what I knew as I pushed through the 2 major symptoms:

 1.) Unrecognizable and unexpected Emotions

 2.) Lack of Energy

This lead to a new diagnoses that I swear should be in a cancer medical dictionary.

 (Zombie Mom + Chemo Brain = Chemombie)

 

The worst combination ever existed. In the middle of Chemo, I was also trying to sleep train my 2 year old. I thought “Isn’t this the best time to transition him into his own bed?”  I needed to have uninterrupted sleep- so why not now?  Well, that was NOT easy and it was stupid timing.

But the week would look like this:

Monday– Chemo Day

I would have treatment in the am. Sometime around 8:30.   The night before, I had packed my bag filled with inspirational breast cancer stories, a journal to reflect on those thoughtful stories of breast cancer survivors and a fluffy celebrity magazine to balance the seriousness.  I’d have my iPad and my cell phone.  I thought of anything and everything that could keep me comfortable as I sat there with the toxins pouring into my port.

After an hour of the pre-drugs, I’d wait for the Benadryl to kick in and then I would just doze off, putting aside all my preplanned activities and find a comfy position in the chair, with my legs prompted up on a pillow and leaning against another. It took approximately 5 minutes to fall into a deep sleep.  Occasionally, I would wake up to my own snoring, look up and determine how much longer I had by the amount of liquid remaining in the IV bag and drift back to sleep.

After about 12:30, my faithful cheerleader (my husband), would bring a lunch as I gently woke up from the nap and we would both eat, discussing the rest of his plans for the day. He was ALWAYS there for my treatments.  I don’t know if he realized that his mere presence made me that much stronger. I endured more than I thought I would just because he sat there across from me.

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Always offering a smile. Ugh! So annoyingly perfect!

He is so much better at the spouse support stuff that I am.

 

The rest of the day was dedicated to sleep. I would go home exhausted from the nap, oh and the chemo drugs. I would nap more and make it downstairs for dinner, if the empty nauseous feeling in my stomach lessened. If not, I would vape through the evening and sleep some more.

Sadly on Mondays, I barely saw my children.  They would come in and give me their sweet kisses.  They would ask,” Are you feeling okay Mama?” I would say, “Just resting. I need my sleep.”  But as I was always left feeling like an old helpless dying person. Sleep was always the answer to those anxieties.

Tuesday:

The day after Chemo was always the worse. The nauseous feeling remained and would grow intense through the day. Going for little walks, going Pilates and yoga was helpful. Tuesdays were dedicated to more rest. I would walk around emotionally exhausted as I probably had to play out another conversation with a friend, who “can’t believe this is happening to you.” And a sympathetic “you look great”. All very sweet and coming from the best of intentions, but Tuesdays are tough.

Wednesday:

More of the same.

3 words- EXHUASTED, TIRED, FATIGUED. Oh wait, they all mean the same thing.

Yup- Wednesdays.

Thursday:

Chemo brain is real. Although the heavy fog lingered, I would wake up on Thursdays feeling better. The drugs slowly exiting my body. It was a constant battle of accepting the toxins and its curative capabilities and cursing it for the irredeemable side effects. Thursdays were always more of an emotional day. More sleep and journal writing occasionally helped. I would have more energy to play with the kids and may be able to participate in a fun family excursion like the park or beach ( although the sun was not my friend).

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  This was the part of the week where I would find my inner “I have cancer and I’m pulling it off because I’m bad ass.”

On these days, I would brave into the grocery store and wear a scarf that would reveal my baldness or I would wear a tank top that exposes my port scar. Thursdays were mostly good days. At times, I would “lose it”. This meant crying uncontrollably to my husband and apologize for “the wife” God had given him.  I was a mess of emotions. Like a crazy person, the emotions would change in a split second and at the same time that I was crying, I’d laugh about the how the wig I was wearing would be pulled too far back on my head and I thought of Worf from Star Trek and his huge wrinkly forehead. Then I would cry again because, I bet Worf never had to deal with cancer.

I was a MESS.

Friday:

Wahoo!  Fun Fridays.  I had enough energy on these days to start planning my weekends, play with the kids or at least be more present. I would have more enthusiasm and joy on Friday. I accepted more visits, invited the hard conversations and took my daughter to her weekly allergy shot to the “big” city about an hour away. After we would have ice cream and go to the park. Those were good productive days and I felt like a human, a mommy and I felt like myself again.puddle-splashing

Saturday:

I would help my husband with our catering company at the Saturday morning Farmers Market. We sold delicious and authentic Spanish paella. I would take the payments and chit chat with customers and he would cook and smile over at me. He really does makes the best food and he is just so handsome- we work well together.

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I wouldn’t have to set up or take down.  I would barter for coffee, croissants, and local vegetables. I enjoyed the energy from the market, the casual conversations, and the unconditional support and love.  Everyone knew I was dealing with cancer, at least that’s how I felt, but no one ever thoughtlessly shared any horrible stories about how “ my Aunt Kathy had cancer, I think it was the same kind you have, and well, it was so hard for her and she looked terrible and she died, but you look great.”  Yes, that has happened to me.

Please don’t say that to any cancer patient. I’ll write soon about what you should “NEVER say to a cancer patient”. Those are always fun.

Sunday:

This was a day that I could dedicate to feeling “normal” again. I was able to dress the children for church, prepare breakfast, shower, and exercise all before 10 am (not in that order). The rest of the afternoon would be dedicated to preparing for Monday. I’d pack my chemo bag, do laundry, clean up the house a little and of course play with the kids. I always felt stronger on Sundays.  It was supposed to be the day of rest, but I wanted to take advantage of the energy and I had less mental stress from the week. I would overdo it on Sundays.

But I’d tell myself, I have all of Monday to rest. “Keep pushing through!” I’d say. I could do it.  And I did.

Sharing the After

fullsizeoutput_a215I meant to start out writing of how absolutely thrilled I am about being 6 month “cancer free “or the “freedom” from which the lack of cancer treatments and appointments has given me. NED, “no evidence of disease.

I meant to focus on my gratefulness to have come through it all and my perseverance to think positively. Once I realized that the medications once prescribed to me to curve the side effects had caused depression, I reached out to alternative relief,  I slowly gained my inner strength. I look back now at how I “made lemonade out of lemons” and pride myself with only having a handful of days that brought a heavy sorrow in my heart. These are all true, BUT……

What I am really want to share is the reality of the “after”.

My daily thoughts are as follows:

  • What was all this for?
  • Why am I even complaining about this? I’m alive aren’t I?
  • Will it come back? I should be thinking more positively.
  • I shouldn’t eat that, smell that, drink out of plastic bottles, etc.… or Ill end up getting it again.
  • I MUST exercise today. Ufffhh…I’m tired.
  • I wonder if it is spreading elsewhere in my body. What hurts today? Is it the cancer?
  • Have I left an impressible memory on my children today? What will they remember of today?
  • How much longer will I have before “it” returns? Will I see my children grow up?
  • If it does come back, do I do chemo again?
  • Should I go on tamoxifen?
  • I only have this one life- I need to be dramatic and do something great!
  • I really should be doing something grand to compensate for this heartache, like move to an island and sell bananas, or go on a crazy shopping spree!
  • Should I quit my job?
  • Will I survive another diagnosis?
  • Am I stressing out my husband? Does he still think I’m beautiful?
  • I can’t believe I was bald!
  • I wonder how I will ever be normal again…

The truth is, I will NEVER be “normal” again. The overall theme stems from the gloomy cloud of reoccurrence. I have these thoughts daily and they are far from abnormal. I am comforted by that.

Also, I am empowered by these same thoughts because I didn’t give up. I’m still here.  By the grace of God and my ability to put faith ABOVE fear, I am once again arriving to a clearing…and clarity is a gift.

I see that I am constantly struggling between the two worlds: my life “before” and” after”. Honestly, the words “I had cancer” makes its way into my conversations without much thought and I say it as both an empowered statement of accomplishment on those virtuous days and a form of an apology or excuse on distressing days.

What about the middle? During the fight?  Oh no, can’t focus on that! I have positioned those feelings just slightly off to the side- to be accessed when I’m strong enough to smile and sigh without hesitation.   I worked so hard to get to here!  It has taken everything I have to get to my “happily ever after cancer” and I am putting my trust into that.

Through Her Eyes

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I have been keeping a journal, sharing some insights from other cancer survivors and debriefing with close friends and family.

 It has been healing and beautiful. 

Additionally, I have been in touch with the wonderful people of www.ihadcancer.com and I will be contributing on the site with excerpts from my healing process.

My first submission on the site will be featured next week but I couldn’t wait to share the news! I also wanted to share it with those of you who have provided me with your love and support first.

Make sure you stay connected to me and send me your email address. I want to send love and support right back at you!

I want to thank those of you who have directly or indirectly impacted me.  Whether you know it or not, you have helped me with one more reason to move forward after cancer. 

It is because of all of you that I can say, I am “happily ever after living” with cancer.

My deepest gratitude,

Heidi

Through Her Eyes

It had been yet another week of chemo and the hair had slowly fallen out, leaving splinter-like sensations on my patchy head. I had grown increasingly confident the last week as I was still marveling in my courageous decision to have my head shaved a few days earlier. I knew  I wanted to be the first to alter my appearance before the chemotherapy did it for me.

Earlier in the week my daughter, barely 5 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, watched me with uncertain eyes.  She stroked my head gently and asked me if it would hurt. She was referring to the moment when I’d shave my head and the long locks would fall to the floor by her feet.  My hair had been my primary identifying feature for her as she would search the playground for mommy.  It was this hair that she brushed and learned how to braid with.  I saw in her eyes that she will miss it and was worried for me.

I knew this. I had foreseen her quiet, worried eyes and her gentle hugs so as to not break me after the lumpectomy. I knew that it was up to me to play this experience out with as much courage and compassion that was within me.  I had vowed to myself that I would lead by example since before she was born and was still in my belly.  I knew that I was responsible for bringing into this world a confident, compassionate and emotionally intelligent woman.That hadn’t changed.  This was yet another opportunity for me impart my experience and shape her character.

I sat on the chair the following morning at Anton’s Hair Co. with Anton, a wonderfully generous and gentle man from Austria who started offering handmade wigs with your own hair and on the same day for cancer patients.

I sat there somewhat numb and dazed.  I heard the buzz of the clippers and took a deep breath as I looked one last time into the mirror with my long brown hair across my chest. My daughter was standing near me, watching with those dreamy, brown eyes. I remembered my vow, my responsibility to her, and it gave me strength to see myself through her eyes. I straightened my spine, adjusted into the seat and smiled right at her.

I let out a squeaky exhilarated scream and said “Here we go!”  I looked up at her through the mirror as the clippers buzzed across the back of my head.  I showed no sadness, but instead an empowered energy that I can still feel inside of me one year later.

When I have to, I go back to this moment and breathe in her big, brown eyes. My heart meets my throat as I see myself through her eyes and that is when the tears swell in my own. I left that chair completely sure of who I really was, hair or no hair, and grateful that I could pass on this confidence to my daughter.