Monthly Archives: September 2009

Turning the corner

Just writing a short message on the eve of my 12th and final chemotherapy session.

Some thoughts going through my head:

1. Thanks. To everyone. For everything.

2. I’m looking forward to turning the page and putting chemotherapy behind me. I’m also nervous about what’s to come. I’ve gotten used to the structure of having doctor’s appointments every Thursday, every other weekend I enter my fortress of solitude and the energy I feel when my nausea passes and I get to start my week from scratch. Now I enter a new stage in my treatment…and a new stage in my life. Hmmm….

3. Its not over yet. I get the month of October off to let my body try to get back to a normal state – rebuild my immune system, get my energy back. Then, in November, I face radiation. Which isn’t nearly as exhausting as the chemo but still has its own set of side effects. After all that, we can deal with my blood flow. Then, the doctor’s tell me, it will take months for my body to get back to ‘normal’. But one step at a time, right?

4. What is it that I’m going to take away from this experience? There is a saying that a person is “Blessed with cancer”…which definitely doesn’t make sense when you are first diagnosed. But, as I begin my journey towards recovery, I’m curious about how these past few months will influence the rest of my life.

I’ve also heard people say that sometimes they miss the feelings they had while they were in treatment. You only have to look at some of my earlier posts to see what this means. In the beginning, I found a new perspective on life – on traffic, on friends and family, on health. As my life returns to normal, will I lose these feelings? Was my ‘normal’ the best normal it could be? Or should I re-adjust my priorities and outlook on life?

I’ve been spending a lot of my time thinking about some of these things. Mulling over my own perspective of my life.

I don’t have any answers today…just questions.

But tomorrow I will have solved one of my problems – putting chemo behind me.

See you on the other side of the weekend.

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Pics and things

I’m not here to celebrate the fact that I’ve only got one more chemo session.

(But let me say – HELL YEAH!!!)

#11 came and went without too much incident. Feeling a little more sicky over the weekend. A lot of fatigue during the week that seems to linger all week. But no new complications. As my friend reminded me – I know what a chemo weekend is like and I know what it takes to get through it. So that’s what I do.

In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to share the photos I took for my photography class back in July. For our final project, we could pick any topic that we thought we could cover through a series of photographs. I tried to avoid the subject of cancer. But with all my limitations and with how much my situation has shaped my life the past few months, I don’t think I really had any choice.

I focused on the things in my life that have changed because of my Hodgkin’s Disease. I tried to take the photos without judgment and without imbuing the photos with a lot of emotion. More of a ‘matter-of-fact’ look at my situation.

Enjoy:

001_Self Portrait

002_Diagnosis

003_Medical Records

004_Pills_1

005_Pills_2

006_Neupogen Shot

007_Schedule

008_Portacath

A vacation from my brain

I keep saying that I consider myself lucky for a variety of reasons. My lack of side-effects is definitely one aspect of this process that I am very grateful for. I kept my hair (although I didn’t really care about that). My nausea is manageable. The fatigue is getting worse, but it is also under control. I don’t have mouth sores or much pain. The Neupogen shots suck…but again, bareable.

Oh yeah, and I have a curable cancer and I’m in remission. And that’s been pretty good news, too.

As I continue through the treatment process, one part of me that I realize has been suffering some pretty major side effects is my brain. Or my mind? I don’t really want to get into figuring out the difference. Let’s just say – the chemo has affected my ‘thinking bits’.

Its called ‘chemo brain’ and I finally looked it up on the Interwebs.

Difficulty focusing? Check.

Difficulty multi-tasking? Check.

Periods of fogginess? Check.

Depression and anxiety? Check.

Feeling that I’m being hunted by the Care Bears? Not chemo related, just something left over from my childhood.

Freaks.

Freaks.

Between my mounting fatigue, my wandering brain, occasional bone pain and all around having cancer – I’ve been trying to cut myself a break.

The meditation classes are teaching me to live in the moment – not worry about the past (“Boy, did this summer suck”) or worry about the future (“How many more chemo sessions do I have?”). But focus on what’s happening right now. Which, if you pay attention to the present, it usually isn’t that bad and really you should stop your complaining because your co-workers are tired of hearing about it anyway.

My goal has always been to come out of this better than I came into it. Stronger. Better. Healthier.

I’ve already felt the effects of my heart opening up more. For friends and family. The kindness of strangers. A deeper appreciation of how fragile life can be. And I can’t even describe what my heart feels for the woman who has held my hand through all of this.

But one thing I’m only starting to realize is that my mind might be stronger for going through this process. If only because I’ve had to explore its weaknesses.

The pain I feel in my body has been manageable. But the weaknesses I’ve felt in my mind are less fathomable. After all, its my mind that keeps walking me through the door to the doctor’s office. Its my mind that wants to punish me when I’m too tired to blog or write or take photos. Its my mind that goes from foggy to lucid to muddled all in one afternoon…but always manages to find its way back again.

I’m looking forward to having my mind back. I think we make a good team. And I’m looking forward to putting it to good use soon.

Now that I’ve gotten the call that I’m in remission and I’m starting to focus on the next steps in my treatment, I see there’s plenty of time for work and problem solving and creativity coming soon.

For now, there’s a lot of Facebook Scrabble to play, movies to watch and sunsets to appreciate. And I’m okay with that. I’ll cut my mind some slack.

Because soon, its back to business.

What condition my remission is in

Hello all.

Been a lot of developments since last we spoke. Where to begin?

The month of August was very difficult for me mentally. I heard it from other cancer patients and from those going through the long process of Hodgkin’s treatment. You start out all fired up – a kind of ‘honeymoon period’ where you have the physical and mental strength to fight this thing with everything you’ve got. But somewhere along the way, it starts to grind you down. For me, it started to happen during my 6th chemo treatment. And from there, the process wore me down more and more.

I’ve figured out why there are so many cancer support groups. My friend referred to cancer as ‘A thinking man’s disease’ because you’ve got so much time to let things roll around your head. And, even though I’ve got ‘the curable cancer’, the game is the same and the chemo treatments, doctor’s visits and rollercoaster ride of being a full time patient eventually takes its toll. I always knew that I was going to make it through this process, but it took me awhile to realize that I was going to need a little help along the way.

So, I’ve been trying out some meditation classes and any other tools I can use to keep my mind sharp and focused on getting healthy. The support I’ve received has been overwhelming, to say the least. Friends and family, acquaintances and co-workers, fellow cancer patients, doctors and social workers – everyone stepped up to help me through a very difficult time. Going through the treatments, waiting for scan results, feeling worn down, living in a ‘cancer bubble’ – I’m learning to take it one day at a time.

Another good quote from my friend (actually, from Deepak Chopra) – “Our cells are constantly eavesdropping on our thoughts and being changed by them.”

I learned the hard way, this isn’t just a physical fight, but a mental one, too.

With that in mind, I started acupuncture with the amazing Dr. Mao in Santa Monica and it made a difference right away. The Tao of Wellness was recommended to me by EVERYONE I spoke to regarding acupuncture for cancer patients. And now I can vouch for them myself.

I had almost no nausea all weekend and my energy levels were way up. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself since I was so used to crashing out during a chemo weekend. I’m not sure if its more of a mental pick-me-up or if those little needles really do make a difference. But I have another appointment scheduled this Friday – the day after treatment – and I’m looking forward to it.

I actually get treated by Jason Moskowitz – who is, I’m sure, the only Jewish acupuncturist in Southern California. But he also seems to get the job done.

I had a great visit with my brother, Dad and my step-mom over the weekend. It was not only great to see everybody and put their minds at ease about my condition, but it was very rewarding to have the distraction and feel like a ‘normal’ person for a few days. Going to an Angel’s baseball game, taking a drive up Malibu and just hanging out and watching a movie with the family made for a very enjoyable time and a great pick-me-up. I wish they could have stayed longer.

But really, who wants to hang out in Los Angeles when its on fire and over 100 degrees?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I got the results back from my PET scan. There was some confusion early on about the results. A PET scan works by having irradiated sugar cells travel to places in the body that have high metabolic activity – which are places like the brain, muscle damage and cancer cells. With my condition of restricted blood flow, there was some mixed results with ‘blood pooling’ – so it was difficult to tell if they were cancer sites or just areas of high concentration of the sugar cells.

Of course, it couldn’t have been straightforward results. That would have been just too easy.

So, with a little more analysis, my oncologist told me that I am in complete remission. That means – no more cancer cells in my chest or neck. I still have one heck of a tumor in there (about 13 cm), but the chemo is working and I can be considered cancer free.

It took me a few days to let that sink in. You’d think I’d get online and blog about it right away but it has taken a little time for me to come to terms with the fact that I’m moving from one stage of my treatment to another. I’ve spent 4 months looking forward to these test results and now that they are here, it is a little difficult to believe.

My next step is talking to the radiologist about how/when to begin my radiation treatment. He may suggest that I cut my chemo treatments back from 12 to 10. However, I was told to never cut my chemo treatments short, especially with a ‘bulky tumor’ of my size. So, even though my oncologist was giving me good news, I still laid into him about the possibility of changing my treatment schedule. Determining my next steps is a work in progress.

Next up – treatment #10 on Thursday followed by meeting with radiologist on Friday followed by 2nd opinions about everything next week. Slip in an acupuncture appointment and some meditation time and I think my September is off to a good start.

I’m looking forward to moving on to the next steps in my treatment. But not without being sure that I’ve done everything I can to kill the cancer and make sure I never have to go through this again.

One day at a time. I’ll be talking to you soon.