Yesterday, my wonderful husband did a task that no husband should ever have to do – shave his wife’s head. The dreaded shedding began Friday and I decided to beat cancer at its own game and take matters into my own hands. Since my head is so big (this was verified by my wig fitter and is in no way any indication of the size of my ego, which has been MIA for the last several weeks), I was unable to get all of it myself. Enter my hero hubby, John, who galliantly rode to my rescue and clipped me down to within 1/2″ of my scalp. While I shed some tears as I watch some ringlets fall, I was actually more shocked by the amount of gray in my hair. Seriously, I have the hair color of a 98 year old woman. And I should know, my grandma had the exact same color at 98.
While I’m not bald yet, it has caused me to consider exactly what beauty is. I texted my friend Cathy to tell her I was taking the plunge and she gave me a great piece of advice/warning: The face in the mirror may be one I don’t recognize. She was right. I had no idea who this buzz cut, gray haired woman was. Sure she had my eyes, but her cheekbones were higher. Her glasses looked strange and she sure did have a big head. I knew it was me, but somehow not me. The face that had stared at me for 48 years in the mirror was suddenly not my own.
What struck me the most though was how different my being bald was a polar opposite to my dad. My dad had lost most of the hair on the top of his head by the time I was in high school. First, he permed it (and I’ll never forget the look on his face when I brought home a group of friends while he was getting a perm – hilarious), then he bought a human hair toupee from one of those salon’s for men. It looked good, but it always stuck out a little bit in the back. I remember him getting his hair cut and having the hooks moved up on his head so it would look like real hair. I also remember my niece, Sarah, pulling it off his head when she was a little over a year old. The looks on both their faces was priceless.
After my dad went on disability retirement, he stopped wearing his hair piece (that’s what he called it). He’d wear it on special occasions, but that was about it. I used to laugh because he looked so young when he had it on, but when he took it off he had jowls like a bulldog. It’s like his face sagged 6 inches. He was still good looking, but not in the same way. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never seen him. I thought about posting a before and after picture of him, but that would no doubt cause him to spin in his urn.
So when I looked at myself, I guess I expected to see a bulldog. People who see me and my mom together think I look like her, and I do, to a degree. But people who see pictures of me with my dad, quickly change their mind. Not only am I a Daddy’s girl to the core inside, I’m a Daddy’s girl on the outside. Instead, I have model cheekbones for the first time in my life. I guess there is something good to this whole chemo thing.
So as I pick the shedding hairs from my sweatshirt and my mouth (yes, I am still shedding), I think that I can finally have a model face. And I hope I reflect the spirit of my dad. He had an awesome personality and faced his health issues with a sense of dignity and strength. While he sometimes felt sorry for himself, it never lasted for long. There was always something to be done and you just need to pick yourself up and do it. Move on with life and life will move you.
While bald is in for guys, it’s not so hot for chicks. However, the face in the mirror, while I don’t recognize her all the time, reflects back strength, dignity and the face of a Dad who taught his girl to be strong, no matter what the circumstance. Love you Daddy!
So here I am 11 days into my first cycle of chemo. While I still struggle with some nausea, especially when I’m tired, I feel like I have regained some control over my body. Maybe control isn’t the correct word. I think my body is allowing me to have some say over what it does.
The anemia that has plagued me for years is getting worse. Not only does a low red cell count make you tired, it makes you huff and puff when you try to exert yourself in any way, shape or form. Red blood cells carry oxygen and the fewer red cells you have, the less oxygen you carry. The less oxygen you carry, the more fatigued you get since every stinking organ in your body needs oxygen. So I eat Cream of Wheat – lots of it. And my hemoglobin drops. I eat spinach, which is certainly not the tastiest when you are nauseated, and my hemoglobin drops. Just sitting here typing this makes me feel like I need a nap. Seriously, blogging requires a nap.
I go to the Community Cancer Care Center (doesn’t that sound nice) every Friday, either for chemo or to have blood drawn. The blood draws not a bad thing. They hook into your port (a catheter inserted into your chest, which has a line connected to the subclavian vein) and poof, the blood just comes out. While I’m sure the blood thinners I’m on have something to do with that, I prefer to think I’m just a good bleeder for the nurses. I go to this place every Friday like a good girl. The only control I have is whether I chose to put numbing cream over the port site before they stick me. I have no choice in tasting the heparin they use to flush the vein first (which also burns like crazy) or where I get to sit. I just follow like a puppy on a leash. Now, I love my chemo nurses. Sharon is a sweet southern belle and holds my hand through any tears I shed. John reminds me of my own John, tall and thin with a warped sense of humor. We get along great. I set it up and get provides the punch line. And I can’t imagine for the life of me why people don’t like him. I LOVE him! I guess I can control that.
Chemo is where you totally lose control. First they give you a benadryl cocktail to prevent an allergic reaction to your chemo. Then, they come at you in full hazmat gear to hook you up to something so toxic it takes 3 full hours to drip into your system. If they drip it too fast, you’ll get sick from the side effect too quickly. Then after a nice flush of saline, I get the ovarian cancer chemo drug carboplatin, which also requires full hazmat gear. Did I mention that I don’t get the hazmat gear? Just my nurse. Hubby is politely reminded to back away while I am slowly poisoned. Wow, I wonder if he thought about this possibility when he signed on for marriage? I’m still debating if this falls under the sickness or worse part of the contract.
So while I get poisoned, I have no control. They do let me go to the bathroom, which of course you have to do since they are pumping fluid into you so I guess that’s not really something I control. I can get snacks – from a limited selection. But I understand Good Sam’s is much better than the standard fair at other chemo centers. And I have to drink – and it’s not even the good stuff. Funky tasting water, apple juice, orange juice, coffee, cocoa or tea. Great selection, but never exactly what I want. I do like the fact that they let us have junk food – chips, pretzels, popcorn and my personal favorite Lorna Doone cookies. Just wish they’d let us have Italian Ice, but I guess that’s only for inpatients. I lived on that stuff when I was in the hospital.
Okay, so I get home and still have no control. I barely make it to bed and spend the next 4 days cursing my body aching in places I didn’t know could ache and wishing I could throw up, but thanks to the drugs my husband forces down me, prevent that. My sons have no mom for those 4 days. I’m just this shell that creeps from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen and back to bed.
The biggest issue I had with my surgery was that I would have no control while I was under anesthesia. And while my oncologist is wonderful, he is a control freak. I am stuck on his schedule until March 8, 2013. Then I hope to bid adieu to the weekly visits to the Community Center. On March 9, 2013, I get control back. I can decide where I want to go and when I want to do it. And I will make those choices, after a nap no doubt.
Ultimately, I realize that while I struggle with the concept of control, I only have a limited amount. When this whole ordeal started on August 23rd, I put it in God’s hands. While I’ve tried to pull it back from Him, it never really leaves His capable hands. On those days when I’m tired and am running on low batteries, it’s God’s gentle hand on my back that steers me through until bedtime and allows me sleep. It’s God’s nudging that pushes me through the doors of the cancer center. After all, God blessed me with this life and it’s up to me to use this and all my other experiences to do His will. And I know it’s best if He’s in control.
I did survive my first chemo treatment – side effects and all. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I am nauseated. Yes I am cold and feel like I have the never ending flu. It stinks, yet through it all I survived.
My mom keeps saying that I’ve been a trooper. My nephew is a trooper. He spent a year in Afghanistan praying that his unit would be safe. My dad and my father-in-law were troopers. Both served in the US Army and both were in Korea after the war. Actually, their tours were served one right after the other (I can never remember who was there first though). So I have a problem with being called a trooper.
My dad was a trooper. I’ve been thinking alot about him today. The last 9 years of his life, he battled MRSA, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, a heart attack (in Hawaii no less) and a final battle with MRSA that he lost. He never met his youngest grandson. And while I know it, I never got to hear a final “I love you and I’m proud of you.”
So I wonder, would Daddy say I’m a trooper now? Would he be proud of the way I’m handling this ugly mess of an illness? The one that causes my husband sleepless nights, my sons an incredbile stress to see a sick mom, my mom hours of worry, and my fear that I will overtax my friends’ invitations to help us out? Would he say “I’m so very proud of you. Keep fighting. You just need to take it as it comes.” Or would he say, “C’mon daughter. Step it up. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It doesn’t do you or anyone else any good.”
I’m thinking he would do a little of both, depending on the situation. I was very fortunate that I was a stay at home mom or a student for most of my dad’s illness. I got to spend a lot of time with him once he retired. We were always close, but got closer. He was there to support me and give me a lecture when needed. I will never forget getting home from our flight from Boston with Kyle after leaving Russia. My mom and my sister-in-law ran to greet John and Kyle, while my daddy ran to meet me. It was surreal. He had been waiting so long for a grandson, but his first reaction was to hug me.
So am I a trooper? I guess it depends who you ask. Somedays I feel like a trooper, marching along through this journey called ovarian cancer and others I melt into a puddle of tears. I’ve realized as I’ve written this that there is no normal in my life, there is only right this minute and how I feel. Right now, I feel like a trooper.
There are few words in the English language that stir human emotion as much as the word “cancer” does. Nearly everyone has been touched by this sneaky bully in some way. There are no two words that scare women more than “ovarian cancer.” It’s a silent killer. How do I know? I carried one of those insidious tumors inside my body for months. On October 17, 2012 the big, bad bully was removed along with 34 lymph nodes, my uterus, cervix, right ovary and part of my peritoneum. I will have a 12″ reminder of its invasion for the rest of my life.
Now the fun starts! I am facing a port insertion for chemo on Tuesday and my first chemo treatment on November 9th (one day after my buddy, Coach Cathy, started 5 years ago). Cancer sucks – no two ways about it. However, it’s time to take the bad and turn it into good and see how I can find ways to glorify God in the process.
First, I am at stage 1. Stage 1 is the most curable stage. Given the size of the mass, it should have been much worse, but only the mass showed cancer. Two, despite throwing a blood clot during surgery and spending 4 days in ICU, I am still here. If you’re going to get a pulmonary embolism, having one in the recovery room is the best place to do it. Three, my mom is an incredibly strong woman. I knew this after watching her care for my dad for nearly 9 years with all his heart, diabetes and MRSA issues. My mommy spent 7 nights with me in the hospital so I would always have a second set of ears for those early morning resident visits and would have a shoulder to cry on during the darkest part of the night when the voices start to scare you. Only a mom gets those voices. I get my sons’ voices, and my mom gets mine. Four, my husband has a job that provides excellent insurance. All my care for the rest of the year is free since I’ve met my deductible and co-insurance (another ICU benefit).
People have commented on how amazed at how my humor has come back and how I’m up and moving. I’m a mom. I have to have humor – it’s a rule. I also need to be able to move. I have two boys – one of which does not know the meaning of sit still. While napping is a necessity, I have learned that a 15 minute power nap is better than a 90 minute snooze. Sleep is not overrated, just a precious commodity.
While these lessons are important, I’ve learned two things that are more valuable than gold. I am blessed with a network of friends and prayer warriors that is second to none. I am still not able to pray much, but am doing the best I can with little “God chats” at night. So many people have lifted up our family in prayer, it amazes me. The biggest lesson – despite feeling completely alone, God doesn’t abandon you. You let go of Him, not the other way around. May I be able to always hang on tightly.