Sunday, February 9, 2020

Done. Like Dirt. Or Something.

On Friday morning (last day of week/last day of month) I had my last radiation treatment.

Whoo Hoo.

I wore those two blue gowns for the last time, breathed SO WELL that I was asked to 'let some air out' after I took my big deep breath (!), handed out thank you and Starbuck's gift cards to all the technicians who'd fondled and beamed my boob this month, then celebrated the end of this chapter by getting a manicure and having dinner with Faye.

I got to the cabin late, in the middle of The Rain Storm of the Century, without bothering to stop for groceries (besides what I could get from a gas station store) to discover that the internet was down. In the morning, Melanie messaged me to let me know the lake road (Columbia Hwy) was washed out due to a mud slide at Teapot Hill, and Vedder Road was closed at the bridge.

So. I spent a couple days at the cabin, by myself, using up phone data, eating random bits of food left in the fridge and cupboards while watching DVD's from a mattress on the floor in my bedroom all night with the storm raging on outside. I was trapped in my happy place. And it was a trillion kinds of wonderful.

On Sunday evening, when the road re-opened, Val and I met at Earl's for a five hour dinner, I bought some healthy groceries, and came back to the lake to tend to my aching body. My upper left chest region was (and still is) tender with radiation bumps n blisters, my throat  was (and is) raw, my gums ache and my tongue was (and is) sore. All of which is normal. But irritating. And time will heal it all; not only the owies on my skin but also on my brain.


On Dec 23 I met with my oncologist to talk about my recovery from the September surgery (which was easy peasy) as well as any side effects from the estrogen blocking drug, (Tamoxifen), that I might be experiencing (not as easy, nor particularly peasy). As predicted, I DID have award-winning hot flashes, about 12 - 20 a day. They were wild, but not random. I told her I was surprised how they seemed to be linked to an emotion. Any emotion. It didn't have to be a strong emotion, or a negative one. As soon as I felt something, whoosh, my personal internal summer would fire up.

Then she asked me about my moods. I told her I was glad November was over because I always fight the blues during the month that has nothing but winter ahead. I explained that we'd just made it through the longest night of the year, so I was doing OK.

She suggested that maybe I had depression.
And she thought I'd benefit from an anti-depressant, "It'll get rid of your hot flashes."
So I left her office with a prescription for Effexor and took my first capsule on Dec 24.

I have not been the same since.
(Fuzzy brain, nauseas, fatigued, emotionless.)
Max wondered, on Boxing Day, if I was on narcotics.
My family enjoyed my 'meh' attitude about breaking/dropping glass bowls and conversations.
My friends noticed my inability to read game cards correctly when playing Ticket to Ride.
And I was freaked out when I opened my work email account, saw 400 emails and couldn't cope. I went up to the lake for a few days before my treatment began, hoping I could make travel plans for the trip I'm going on in May. Oh my goodness... I became utterly overwhelmed by all the Air BnB options in Paris. I closed my computer and figured I'd deal with it once my brain got used to the med.

All through my treatment, I got worse. Couldn't read a book. Couldn't stay awake for more than 5 hours. I was napping on any horizontal surface a couple times a day.

Couldn't choose a show to watch on Netflix. (When I finally did, I made sure to choose one that had multiple seasons so I wouldn't have to make a decision the next night. Line of Duty, for example: 5 seasons = 5 nights of viewing. I'd watch all 6 episodes a day because I didn't know what else to do. The thought of making decisions JUST DID ME IN. I ate toast and peanutbutter every day for the first two weeks in January because thinking of other options was too much.

Oh the anxiety. It was off the charts on my first day of treatment. I could not breathe. I was sweating non-stop (not from hot flashes) from fear. I AM NOT TYPICALLY A FEARFUL person. No deordorant on earth could mask the odor of fear that was seeping from my armpits. I brought wet-wipes with me so I could wash my pits whenever I left the house.

I didn't think I was depressed when she put me on the drug, but boy howdy, I was a glorious mess after.

Determined to 'fight this thing' (whatever 'this thing' was) I forced myself to do two things every day. Well, actually three:
1. Do my hair and make up EVERYDAY. Show up at my treatment appointments looking cared for.
2. Try to meet with a friend EVERYDAY either before or after my appointment. Talk about things that aren't cancer. Stay interested in other people's lives. Find out how I can pray for them.
3. Go to the gym and ride the exercise bike at least 4 times a week. For an hour. (And then nap.)

On January 31, after my last appointment, I called my oncologist:

Me: I am unemployable. I can't stay on this antidepressant.
Her: How are your hot flashes?
Me: All gone. But so is my brain and my heart. I can't think or feel.
Her: OK then. You've been on them a month?
Me: Yes. It's been a rough month. I don't like who I am.
Her: You're going to have to wean yourself off them slowly. The withdrawal is wicked. And keep in touch with your GP, he should be monitoring you.

I started cutting back immediately.
Have you ever done this? Get off an anti-depressant?
If not, let me explain. YOUR BRAIN ZAPS AND PULSES. The synapses sizzle and frizzle til you can hear your head saying screaming, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WOMAN? And the hot flashes begin, in earnest, immediately. (Last night, I had three humdingers between 4 and 5 am. I was completely soaked. This is going to be a fun five years.)

I had such grand plans for my medical break from work.
I was going to read books. (Does anyone know where my Kindle is? Can't find it.)
I was going to cull about 100,000 photos from my computer. And back everything else up on the TWO external hard drives the kids got me for Christmas.
I was going to make half a dozen photo books (Groupon is reminding me DAILY that my Photo Book coupons are going to expire this week)
I was going to plan our trip. Get accommodations reserved.
I was going to ....

Yeah, I was also going to fight cancer. But I am a Project Manager. And I had planned on DOING PROJECTS while I had the time to do it.

All I did?
Was fight cancer while that stupid drug kicked my ass.

I am grateful to my tribe who ignored my "I'm fine" responses by giving me both space and love. So thankful for the (totally unexpected) home-made meals, quick coffee dates, prayers, text messages, offer to come over in the evening and tuck me in (that message makes me cry when I think about it), the movie nights, the 'let's make plans' messages, the Skip The Dishes coupons, the Canuck's game, the cards that came in the mail (looking at YOU, Mary...💗 ) the phone messages (thanks, Auntie Wendy 💖) and the rides to a couple of my final appointments. So glad that I have a sister; we've talked more on the phone this month than we have in the previous 4 years. And as ever, can't imagine going through this, living anywhere else but here, in my mom's basement. (Last May I'd been praying about my housing situation, and believed I got a firm, "Stay where you are child. I hear you. And love you. But now is not the right time to think about moving." Haha. Too right. I live with people who care for me, TEN MINUTES AWAY FROM THE CANCER CLINIC.)
So glad I am where I am.

I did not want my Dance with Cancer to be a burden on anyone. It was just breast cancer and we got it early, so it wasn't the real kind. Just the easy no-big-deal kind. I was hesitant to ask for time off, originally thinking I was making a big commotion about a few radiation appointments. But those folks I met with everyday, after hours, in the darkened, mostly empty basement of the hospital were taking this very seriously and monitored my progress constantly. I was reminded, often, that my body had been through alot. And it would still be experiencing the after-effects of the radiation for a couple weeks into February.

So I feel less guilty about missing work.
And I'm mostly OK about being social/caring for others for only 3 hours a day.

I think, if I hadn't been on that drug, the month of January would have been so very different. And the month of February would likely be different too... Because yikes, those withdrawal brain-pulse-farts are quite something. Even though I've been cutting back on those meds for just a week, it's REMARKABLE how quickly I feel better. And how talkative I've become.

And how I'm ready to make decisions again.

So I bought a condo today.
For me.
To live in.
By myself.


I'll post deets tomorrow.

Three things I'm thankful for:

1. THE SUN WAS OUT TODAY. (We've just broken a 50 record for most consecutive days with precipitation.) It seemed like a good day to buy something. :)

2. Clear night skies and a stunning full moon.

3. A daughter-in-law who sacrificed her Friday night to sit beside me to look at ten thousand Air BnB sites. A friend who said, Hey, let's just have a look at the show suite... A brother who says, "I think it's time we went out for a coffee".  A God who says, "Hey, Jane. I got this. And that. And that other thing too."

Peace, friends.

In case you're wondering, these are the common side effects of Tamoxifen. I'll be on this drug for 5 years:
  • increased tumor or bone pain
  • hot flashes
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • headache
  • hair thinning
"Hot flashes or night sweats from taking tamoxifen can be troubling. But a 2008 British study suggests that women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats while taking hormonal therapy medicine were less likely to have the breast cancer come back (recur). Knowing that this side effect might indicate a reduced risk of the cancer coming back may help some people stick with treatment despite the side effects.

And the side effects of Effexor:

  • drowsiness
  • anxiety
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • loss of appetite
  • blurred vision
  • nervousness
  • unusual sweating
  • excessive yawning

(Oh my goodness, that last one! I was yawning 20 - 30 times per hour.)

Later gators.

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