Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Part 3

The Good - "Hope is beautiful." 

I am quickly leaving Cycle #3 behind me. The half-way mark of my 6 month chemotherapy treatment. It seems hard to believe,  as when I first started this journey I have to admit 12 treatments certainly seemed unattainable and overwhelming. Approaching it one treatment at a time, one week, one day has made the mountain seem much smaller as I look back. Of course, the forward horizon of six more treatments to go seems insurmountable but I know that I have the strength and perseverance to get it done. 

Wonderful experiences like I had today make facing these treatments a little bit easier. The good in the world shines through on a daily basis when facing a cancer diagnosis. My best friend Carole and I attended a Look Good, Feel Better Workshop at the Grand River Cancer Centre today. There were two other brave women at the workshop and it wasn't long before we were laughing and comparing chemotherapy stories as we tried on makeup products, wigs and scarves. It made the scary process a little less so, when you know that there are others going through the exact same thing as you are. We were blessed to have an army of volunteers with tips and tricks to use to help us feel beautiful and attractive despite the annoying side effects that come along with cancer treatment. Thank you to those women who give their time to provide this wonderful program, once again we are so fortunate to have these resources available to us so that we don't feel alone in this journey. Thank you to Carole for coming with me, our shared life experiences of eyebrows, zits, makeup expiry dates and lack of knowledge made me laugh and your tears of empathy made me cry. It was exactly what I needed today.

I also wanted to share a resource available to us through our OTIP teacher's pension plan and our ETFO union. It is called Cancer Care Path. After a phone interview and consent forms were signed, I have been matched with an oncology nurse, MF who has 27 years experience at Princess Margaret Hospital with lymphoma/hematology patients. She arranges weekly or bi-weekly phone sessions with me to answer any questions I have, help me prepare questions for the oncologist, review symptom management with me, provide emotional support and counselling. She has access to all my records at the Cancer Centre and has presented my case to an Oncologist who will help make recommendations on treatment, follow-up and will stay connected with me during my recovery once treatment is completed. I find myself looking forward to her phone calls and have quickly established a rapport with her that I am finding so comforting and helpful. She is a voice to me that I can ask questions that I may forget to ask at my oncology appointments, or feel silly asking. She has given me strength and helped me with those "what if" questions by reviewing all the positive outcomes I am experiencing with my treatment. One more cheerleader for me who just happens to be a qualified professional, once again, how fortunate I am to have such a great support system.

The Bad - "Scan-xiety"

June 30 was not only my 6th treatment but was also a repeat CT scan of my chest and neck. The CT scan will show the whether there are lymph nodes that continue to be enlarged, the oncologist will compare the lymph nodes to the scan done back in March when I was first diagnosed with lymphoma. As well, it will show progress on shrinking (eliminating) the 8 cm mass in my chest in the mediastinum area. Understandably, I am trying to not let my anxiety come through in worrying about the results of the CT scan. In my heart, I know this to be true. 

I have not had one night sweat since I started treatment. I have not had any fevers, my itchy skin has disappeared and I can no longer feel any swollen lymph nodes in my neck. None. These are all wonderful signs that I am responding to chemotherapy. My heart knows this to be true. I know that there will only be positive news. My heart knows this. Sometimes my head gets the better of me and I ask those "what if?" questions. The what-if questions are unfortunately what I am going to have to live with for many years to come. The conflict between my head and my heart, and my gut will be my greatest struggle.  Next week, the PET scan will provide further confirmation of where the cancer cells still lurk in my body, the knowledge of exactly how much of the battle is left for me. I will have scans done every three months and then every six months once I complete treatment so this "scan-xiety" is not going to go away. Please be patient with me as I work through this. I will let all of you my loved ones and army of supporters know the results of these tests when I am able to. Thank you for your continued words of support, encouragement and positive thoughts. It means more to me than I am able to adequately express to you.

The Ugly - Anticipatory Nausea

I am going to share with you one of the most difficult side effects that I have been dealing with recently. It is a lesson in Psychology 101, remember back to university days friends. Classical conditioning and Pavlov. As my next treatment day approaches, I am beginning to become more nauseous and unconsciously anxious about having to face side effects all over again just when I start to feel back to my normal self. Since I have had a few experiences with chemotherapy my brain has established the pattern that goes along with it, knowing what's coming understandably I want to avoid this pattern. The negative stimuli being the nausea, groggy feeling, saline taste in my mouth when they flush my picc line... these are all triggers for me. What I have learned is anticipatory nausea is very very real. I am actually feeling real nausea based on my previous experience. I really had a taste for it this week and it was not pretty. It was downright something I need and want to avoid. We are going to try some new tactics next time. I have been doing my research and I am going to be better prepared after a great talk with the wonderful chemotherapy suite nurses. I have realized that you need to speak up, ask for help and advice and not be afraid to "do whatever it takes to get yourself through it" as Sandra (oncology nurse) says.

Thank you to Jason and a compassionate company by the name of Hoerbiger.  We have wonderful news to share that Jason will be starting a new position in two weeks time as an ERP Specialist. An amazing company who agreed to Jason working part-time for July and August to allow him to continue to focus on my recovery. He will begin full-time in September. This change may result in our having to call upon those of you who have offered to help us out with driving kids etc. We will be sending an email out with some dates where we may need some assistance picking up Jordan from her gymnastics training. Thank you in advance for your friendship. Thank you to my aunts and uncles and extended family who continue to send cards, emails and phone calls. Even though we don't see each other as often as our friends in daily life, we love you and feel your support and positive thoughts. It takes a village to raise a child and somewhere along the line, you helped raise me up and provided a role model for me growing up. Thank you.

Thank you! Half-way, couldn't have done it without you!

Sporting a new scarf, hair is slowly thinning out.

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