Missed Conceptions

Last month – May 9th, to be exact – I started spotting. It never got heavy, but it lasted for a full five days.

My oncologist said it was just my hormones trying to normalize. My gynecologist examined me and said there was nothing wrong and it could by my period or just hormonal spotting. Desperate to know if, after a year and a half, my body was finally normalizing, I took a digital ovulation test, which showed that yes, I was ovulating – on Julian’s birthday.

My “period” should have come back on or around the 4th – the 6th. I took several pregnancy tests, which all came back negative. On Conor’s third birthday, I took one that came back positive. Julian and I were both in shock, which, over the course of several days, morphed into excitement and joy.

Because my first pregnancy resulted in a ruptured tube, life-threatening internal bleeding, and emergency surgery, as soon as I discover I am pregnant I have to get two hCG tests two days apart. When a pregnancy is in the uterus, hCG levels roughly double every 48 hours. With ectopic pregnancies, hCG creeps up much more slowly. I had my hCG tested on Tuesday and it was very low, which was expected – I was only very newly pregnant. Yesterday, I inexplicably started getting a sinking feeling that I was not pregnant. Julian thought I was being crazy, but I felt sure there was some error – in spite of the positive home and blood tests – and I was not actually pregnant.

This morning I called to ask if that was possible, and the nurse called me back with my second hCG results. My hCG had stayed stable – not moved at all. She said that indicated that conception had occurred, but that for whatever reason, it had not developed or continued. She said I would get my period as normal, and could try again next month. I asked if there was any possibility that I was actually still menopausal, that perhaps it had been a false positive and I had never been pregnant at all. She said she didn’t think so, that menopause wouldn’t cause hCG to rise, and that very likely my body was ready and I should just keep trying.

I hung up with her and wept.

I have so many thoughts and they’re all jumbled so I’m just going to word vomit them here. I just had a miscarriage. I wonder if I conceived in the ruptured tube and then it traveled down and was not able to get to the uterus. Should we even try again? I’m kind of old. I thought this was a miracle. Is my body actually back to normal? I’m so fucking tired of wondering where I stand. Chemo really fucked me up. Why did we have to get that positive result? I could have just kept going along not knowing. This feels like a cruel prank. At least I can drink when I go visit my sister. Should I bother to ovulation test again? Will my period come again? When? Did I really know I wasn’t pregnant, or was that just fear talking? Being a woman is bloody impossible. Fuck you, cancer. Julian was so happy. I am so disappointed. I feel like a disappointment. I am both devastated and unsurprised. I knew it was too good to be true. I am surprised by how excited and thrilled I was. I am surprised I let myself get so invested so fast. I really don’t know if I can do this again.

Finally: I am strong, and I just need to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving forward.

One Year Later – Cancerversary Post

September 11th was my one-year cancerversary. (pause for applause)

I don’t really know how I feel. And I don’t even know what I’ve covered before and I don’t feel like going back and looking so I’m just going to start fresh here. Some of the things I say might be repeats – just take it that I still feel the same, as opposed to me repeating myself.

Well, first, I had my first post-treatment mammogram yesterday. When I had my pre-treatment mammogram, it was nbd. I mean it wasn’t something I’d choose to do, it didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t awful.

Yesterday was awful.

I don’t know why and I haven’t yet googled it, but the mammo on my right breast (RB, or Ruby as she came to be known) was excruciating. It didn’t help that it had to be done at three different angles and then twice more with a magnifying lens. If you haven’t had a mammo, you probably only have a vague idea about what it entails. Essentially she took a shot of each breast with me sitting and facing the machine, one boob at a time smashed between a plastic tray and a metal tray, which are pressed together by a machine and then given a final hand crank. I then stood for all of the remaining shots, which also involved smashing. By the final shot, which was the very most painful, I started feeling nauseated. As soon as the shot was over I sat down and put my head between my legs so I didn’t pass out. Then I got all whiny and emotional and why me for a second and started to cry before I glanced at the People magazine I had been reading on the counter, which was open to a blurb about how the remains of an 11-year-old kid who’d been abducted at gun point 27 years ago had finally been found. And suddenly I realized breast cancer is honestly far from the worst thing that could happen to me.

Something I know I haven’t touched on before now is that my period came back that one time, but hasn’t returned since. The hot flashes came back with a vengeance and I definitely experienced some real sadness, verging on depression, as a result of the way my body has been affected. It’s hard because the symptoms I continue to experience aren’t from cancer, but from chemotherapy and/or radiation – I had no symptoms from cancer. So there are times when I think, maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t found it. Maybe I should have just let nature take its course and allowed the cancer to do what it was going to do. Of course that’s absurd, but sometimes the physical remnants of the treatment make me a little absurd.

I do wish they had prepared me better for what to expect after, but I suppose that would probably drastically reduce the number of people who would be willing to go through treatment, thus drastically reducing survivorship. My last chemo was March 30, so my 6-months out date will be September 30th – but if you’re really counting when that chemo was totally finished, probably more like mid-October. Six months is significant because the general consensus is that all chemo-related symptoms should resolve between six months and a year post chemo.

Symptoms I continue to struggle with include sore hips, knees, and back, stiffness after sitting, swollen, painful hands and trigger finger in the morning, hot flashes and loss of fertility, digestive issues (enough said), and of course the aforementioned tender right breast. I also have soreness and scar tissue buildup at my port incision site and also along where the catheter was so that when I stretch my head back it looks like the catheter is actually still in my neck.

All these things may sound trivial on their own, but when combined, they have presented a difficult hurdle for me. I was very strong and (I thought) healthy prior to my diagnosis and treatment, so to go from a mom who could do everything with her kids to a mom who struggles to go from sitting to standing has been a real blow. And funny enough, HAHA, I left loss of mental acuity and ability to plan and organize out in the paragraph above because I thought that was finally resolving, but AS I AM TYPING THIS my therapist just called because I was supposed to be at her office at 2 and it’s now quarter past – I completely forgot. So yeah, safe to say my brain is still being affected.

This has been an incredibly whiny post and for that I apologize. I guess the crux of what I am getting at is this: yeah, it’s over, but it’s not OVER. I have hair and eyelashes again, my mammogram was clear, I’m six months out of chemo, but I’m still affected every day, both physically and mentally. So I guess – just don’t expect rainbows and unending gratitude from breast cancer survivors. Getting the cancer out, getting through treatment, that’s a battle. But I’m still fighting the war, and I think in some ways I will be for the rest of my life. Just because cancer didn’t kill me (yet) doesn’t mean everything is back to normal. This is a longer road than I anticipated.

But I’m walking it, and I’m grateful to be doing so with so many people who love and support me.

Doctor Blows the Whistle on Chemotherapy

I am here today to express frustration. I have discussed a similar frustration in a previous blog, but I want to touch on it again after seeing the video referenced in the title of this blog.

Some people prefer traditional medicine, and some people prefer naturopathy. I personally prefer integrative medicine, which is a marriage of the two. I saw a naturopath during my cancer treatment and took various natural supplements to help combat effects. I just finished a cleanse to help relieve pain in my joints. At the same time, as a depression sufferer, I know for a fact that chemicals can help me live a healthier, happier life.

I took all my medical decisions very seriously. I researched each one, spoke with multiple medical professionals, and took time to think about what I was doing and why. So it makes me incredibly, incredibly angry when propaganda like this makes it way into my Facebook newsfeed. If you don’t feel like watching it, I will summarize: A “doctor” by the name of Peter Glidden spends five minutes discussing the fact that chemotherapy does not work and is simply a money-generating scam for big pharma and oncologists.

As soon as I saw the title of the video, I was curious. By the time I was halfway through, I was enraged. I couldn’t even finish it, nor did I want to. I took to the web to find out more answers, and sure enough, found a thorough debunking of this doctor’s claims on Snopes. Turns out the good doctor has based all of his research and claims on research published by another doctor in the 1950s who conducted HIS research in the 1930s. If that doesn’t seem THAT long ago to you, I point you to this summary published by the NIH, where – on the first page – you can see that 5-year breast cancer survival has risen from 60% in the early 50s to over 90% in the late 90s. Chemotherapy testing began in the 40s, so draw your own conclusions about what has led to the astounding increase in survival.

All of that background is really beside the point, however. The point is this: When things like that are shared with me, it is equivalent to saying two things. One, I am a stupid and uninformed individual who simply allowed her healthcare decisions to be guided by whatever the doctors suggested, and two, that I just wasted 4 months of my life on something that will probably kill me, or at the very least, will not help me. In fact, based on Dr. Glidden’s assertions, I only have a 3% chance of survival now that I have had chemotherapy. Of course, MY doctor says I have an over 90% chance of survival, but surely he doesn’t have my best interests at heart. He became a doctor simply to make money – not because he cares about women’s health. Thank goodness I have people like Glidden looking out for me – and telling me that now that I’ve had chemo, I am basically almost certainly going to die.

If you think, for a second, that I did not come face to face with my own mortality the instant I heard the word “cancer” over the phone, you are badly mistaken. Likewise, if you think that I do not already know and think about the fact that cancer could come back anytime, anywhere, and kill me, you simply do not understand the psychological impact of cancer. After going through chemotherapy and radiation, being told by some quack, and by whoever chooses to spread his quackery, that I am going to die based on my own INFORMED, RESEARCHED, MEDICALLY SOUND health care decisions is at best insensitive and at worst cruel.

If you truly believe the out of date, fear-mongering information Dr. Glidden is spreading, that is your decision. But understand that cancer and chemotherapy are hard enough without being told you’re making or have made a mistake. And do some research of your own before spreading his misinformation to other people, people who might already be scared as hell as it is.

 

Short but sweet!

37 when diagnosed and started chemo, 38 when completed chemo, told my chemopause could be permanent, would probably take at least 6 months to know –

My period came back today. 🙂 Weird thing to write about, I guess, but since we really felt robbed of making our own decision whether or not we wanted to try for another baby, this was a super important thing to both Julian and me. Additionally, it makes me feel really positive – my body is becoming mine again, and if I could recover so quickly from chemo, I must be pretty healthy! Other than this stupid cold I am now battling, which came hot on the heels of the stomach bug from last week. In spite of those, feeling pretty good – and this also explains last week’s depression.

Hurrah!

Depression makes its sneaky return?

So for the past four nights I’ve found it very difficult to sleep. I have always suffered from insomnia, but usually Trazodone helps take the edge off, and the fatigue from all the treatment has really kept me sleeping. The last few nights I have averaged 5 – 6 hours, and that’s not solid – that’s on and off. That may sound fine to some but as someone who really needs 8, I’ve been struggling.

Additionally, my appetite has suddenly tapered off to nothing, which is VERY unusual. I didn’t even eat a cupcake at Conor’s birthday! Finally, I have been feeling very lackluster – no motivation, no desire, lots of guilt. Couldn’t get a sitter to go a friend’s event last night and felt terribly about it; have a sitter tonight for plans I’ve really been looking forward to, and now have no desire. So now I’m wondering: is my depression returning?

Of course, it could be all the chemicals still in my system, or my hormones readjusting. (More on that later, actually; hard conversation with Dr. K on Wednesday [re hormone treatment] that could be contributing to the blahs). It could also be that I have been battling a cold and am now having GI issues. Or, finally, the insomnia could of course be causing me to feel depressed – it wouldn’t be the first time.

Regardless, I am nervous, and in that curious depression quandary of feeling desperately lonely but not wanting to talk, of wanting company but not wanting to interact. And I’m just trying all the while to act normal in front of the boys because I don’t want them to be children who grow up remembering “When Mom had one of her spells!” I’ll just try to stay aware and if things degrade I’ll talk to a psychiatrist about my meds.

As far as hormone treatment, we met with Dr. K Wednesday and of course he strongly recommended I do the once monthly Lupron shots. I told him no, and he was – I guess probably just concerned, but of course I felt it was disapproving. He asked if I could tell him why, just so he knew, and I started crying as I described the hot flashes, night sweats, wrinkles, roughening of the skin around my jaw, weight gain – all of which happened while I was on Lupron during chemo. I told him I had no problem with growing old, no problem with turning 45, but that I’d like to do it in seven years, when I turn 45. He understood and was supportive, and we agreed to talk about it again down the line. Complicating things for me is the fact that a friend’s mother had breast cancer roughly ten years ago, and she did the full course – chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy – and it has now metastasized. So it’s all a roll of the dice anyhow.

After we left I realized it’s not just the symptoms I don’t want – it’s the daily reminder of those symptoms. That I had cancer, that I can have it again, that it could kill me. I mean it’s always going to be at the back of brain anyhow, but I don’t need to be reminded three times a day when I take the Gabapentin to combat the hot flashes (which by the way I am now off of, yay), as well as every fucking time those hot flashes occur.

The other day I went in to get sugared and it was an aesthetician I hadn’t met before, as mine is out sick. She asked me about my cancer and treatment and when she found out I was through, she remarked, “So you beat cancer.” Which, I am sure she was trying to be nice, but no. No I haven’t and honestly I can’t help but think that I won’t really have “beat cancer” until I die of something else. On the plus side, I told Julian this and it’s led to all sorts of great jokes, like me on my death bed and my last words being, “Suck it, cancer! Heart disease wins again!” (Julian’s: “Yes! Hit by a car! Take that, cancer!”)

Starting Monday, Julian and I are going to try to do a 10-day green smoothie cleanse. I am doing it to get rid of all the poison left in my system and to try to be healthier – I’m hoping it might also help with my joints (which are terrible, and contributing to my depression). He is doing it because he is supportive and amazing. Dr. K gave it the thumbs up so I’m hoping for the best.

This turned out to be a long, rambling post, but I guess I had a lot inside me. Happy Saturday – get out there and live.

Complaints or gratitude?

I have really been pretty depressed ever since the day I found out radiation on my armpit would continue. I “only” have 8 more sessions, but when you are in pain 24 hours a day, that seems a lot longer than you would think.

I have kind of tried to keep it to myself (how depressed I am) because I feel like facing this entire challenge with gratitude and an upbeat attitude has been one of my strengths and worked to my benefit. But the fact is I AM depressed, and just hiding it isn’t resolving the issue.

There are a number of reasons I am depressed, and my first instinct was to blog about them all, because writing is very soothing for me. But no one wants to listen to someone complain incessantly, so I decided to try to turn each complaint I have around into an expression of gratitude. I know it’s not going to fix my depression, but maybe it will improve my mood, even just for today.

So here goes.

I am grateful that I have a capable doctor with whom I can meet this week to discuss my burns and the pain they’re causing, and I’m grateful my insurance will cover it.

I’m grateful that I can afford a pilates instructor to help strengthen my muscles. I’m grateful I have an amazing friend who is also a massage therapist who helps me manage the pain in my joints. I am grateful my insurance covers an acupuncturist (who’s from Philly!)

I am grateful I have not lost ALL of my eyelashes. I am grateful my eyebrows and hair are growing back in.

I am SO grateful I have a partner who supports me, takes care of me, and has taken on extra duties to ensure I get the rest I need to heal.

I am grateful – I am having a hard time with this one. I am embarrassed, depressed, and angry that chemo sent me into early menopause, and that I don’t know when or if I will come out of it. It is embarrassing to be 38 and in menopause and I don’t – I can’t think of any positive side to it. I am grateful – I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful my body responded to chemo the way it was supposed to, and that I am still here.

I am grateful that I have been able to maintain a social life while undergoing treatment.

I am grateful that I have stayed positive up until now.

I am grateful for the amazing network of people I know in real life and online who have listened to, understood, and supported me throughout this ordeal.

And I am grateful I can write. So grateful for that.

Radiation 18/35

Not such a good day.

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The radiation is really starting to take its toll on my skin. My right nipple is significantly darker than my left, and my entire breast feels heavy. I am developing a red, spotty rash from above my nipple to into my armpit. Meanwhile, I have vitiligo in my armpit, so the radiation has made it very red and tender, like a sunburn. Unlike a sunburn, the redness and soreness do not go away. In fact, I learned from my tech today that my skin woes are really only just starting – they will get worse, and continue to worsen even after I am through with radiation (June 9). So essentially I am looking at my skin darkening, burning, and possibly (likely) blistering and opening before this is all over, which really won’t be until the end of June.

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I am tired. Not fatigue-tired, thankfully – that hasn’t hit me yet, though I am sure it will. I am mentally tired. I am tired of fighting this enemy that I can’t see or feel. I am tired of waging war on my own body to combat something that may or may not even be there. It has been 7 long months since my first surgery, and I have mostly stayed positive, but today, as I lay on the table, holding those fucking pegs, I thought to myself, “What if I just died? If something killed me, then I wouldn’t have to do this anymore.” I don’t mean suicidal, though I have been there – I mean just, I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to face one more day of self-harm for a result I may or may not see. And my friend, her mother went through all this shit – surgery, chemo, radiation – and guess what? She just had a tumor removed from her spine. Metastasis. So is this worth it? I really don’t know.

I want to quit. Just say, fuck this, I have done enough, been through enough. There is only so much the human mind, spirit, and body can handle, and I am at my limit. When you start to think death is a preferable alternative, I think it’s safe to say you’ve used up your reserves and are pretty much at the end of your rope.

But then I talk to my breast surgeon, who tells me he doesn’t ever think I am going to deal with this cancer again. And I talk to my Mom, who offers words of sympathy and encouragement. And I talk to my husband, who makes me dinner and takes the kids up for their bath so I can write it out. And I talk to the ladies in my Facebook cancer group – some of whom have been through this and come out the other side, some of whom are facing it head on right now, just like me – and they offer words of camaraderie and praise. And I realize: this will be all right. I will be all right.

So yeah. Things suck today. But I’ll go back tomorrow, and every damned day until I’m done, and I’ll suffer and have bad days but in the end it will be behind me and if the cancer does come back, at least I know I can say I did everything I could.