This blog is about fun but I want to take a moment to discuss my personal medical situation. I know that I have invited strangers or semi strangers into this place, so I thought a warning might help ensure that no one is made uncomfortable. Thanks for your patience.
Yesterday I had a check up at my Oncology clinic. There are a bunch of us that know each other because we all visit the office so much and we chat while we wait. One of the lovely ladies introduced me to her husband and said "she has stage 4." He looked at me with big eyes and said "How much longer do you have?" in a hushed whisper. I couldn't help it. I laughed. The only answer I could give is: "My doctor doesn't believe in that, she doesn't like giving death a goal." He laughed and I can laugh about it now, but in the beginning I really struggled with stage 4.
My confession is that it is my fault that I am so seriously sick. My fault. Really. I had opportunities and an obligation to take care of myself and I did not. I thought I was being brave or tough. I thought I was invincible. I will explain.
I initially had breast cancer in 2002 with a mastectomy and 6 months of chemo. After that I was fine and had the standard check ups for several years. But as recently as late 2007 I was treated for a cancer lesion on my sternum. I went right from a quick in office scan, to biopsy then to radiation treatments. My doctor at the time scheduled appointments for complete scans to verify the cancer was not anywhere else. I did not go. Scans that would likely have shown the beginning of what I am dealing with now. He also gave me a hormone effecting drug to help manage cancer growth that I really struggled with and eventually stopped taking. I did not go back. I was busy. I was sure I was fine. I was an idiot.
In 2010 I gained weight quickly over a few months and my abdomen became swollen, at first I thought I was just overeating. I began having serious pain in my back, right between my shoulder blades. I was struggling to exercise and eventually had to stop. I was taking a ton of Advil with no effect on the pain. I would get light headed and feel like I was going to faint. I was in a new city and did not have a doctor and initially went to an urgent care clinic. The doctor there told me that I needed a primary physician and he recommended one. I made an appointment with that primary care doctor. But one night I was so sick Esteban took me to the emergency room. That was where we found out. The doctor on duty had a scan done. Then he came to tell me that my liver was twice the size it should be because I had what appeared to be large and small cancerous tumors. He let me know that it was very serious and I needed to see an oncologist immediately.
In that first appointment with her, my new Oncologist told me I had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. That means my original cancer-breast cancer-spread to my liver, two vertebrae and a number of bones. The two vertebrae are dangerous because a fall can cause the bone to crumble and potentially paralyze me. I remember getting angry. At myself, at her, angry at the world. I remember nearly passing out from pain and anger in the office that day. I was going to die and it was my fault.
My doctor was stern with me then, in the beginning. I was a hot mess. After the first 2 or 3 months of chemo I was still in shock. I remember asking her why I wasn't dead yet. She said "I don't know." She got my attention. I said "What?" She said that stage 4 means no cure and that your life is in danger but it does not mean that you will die tomorrow or next month or even next year. She let me know that aggressive treatment could give me time. "But how much time and time doing what?" I asked. She laughed. I had to laugh too. She said that I could decide on what and she would help as much as she could with the time. She is very funny and that helps.
Coming to terms with long term chemotherapy was very hard for me. It was a tough time in 2002 and I remember swearing that I would never go through it again. So hearing that I would have chemo for as long as I needed it was alarming. Luckily it has gotten a bit better since 2002. I had chemo this time for 15 months and am now on a break to recover. The recovery is important because I lost quite a bit of weight and am frail, I need a cane or wheelchair when we go out. But so far the break has been wonderful and I am gaining weight (thanks Chick-Fil-A and M&Ms;). The largest lumps in my liver are now smaller and a few of the smallest ones are gone! I still get regular injections of medication for my bones. Doc says that I can continue the chemo break for several more months as long as the cancer doesn't start growing again. So far so good.
The break has helped me so much, my mind feels more awake and alert. Able to blog even;)
Ultimately I realize the best choice for me is to focus on right now. Appreciating right now has improved my attitude and outlook tremendously. I can better enjoy the time with my family. Crafting and writing this blog have also helped to give me some purpose and routine. I appreciate that I am able to share my thoughts and ideas so openly.
I want to be sure to let everyone know how important it is to follow up and get regular check ups. For cancer, diabetes, that cough, that pain or any other persistent health concern. We have to take care of ourselves and neglect can be a harmful choice.
Thank you for listening. Tomorrow back to fun.
Luci says Hi: