Have vs Had

At what point in my journey can I use the phrase “I had cancer”? Is there any specific time that you can switch a “have” to a “had” when you have stage 4? Since the cancer cells in my body are just floating around like dust particles, I wonder if I will ever be able to speak of cancer in a past tense. If I forget about the microscopic cancer cells and just go by what we can see, can I use the term after my first clear scan? Or do I have to wait till that all coveted 5 year mark to finally say, “I had cancer”. Even when that time comes, is that a description I would want to define myself? I am so much more than this disease, but yet it seems to be in the top five of words used to describe myself these days.

Having a “planner” personality it is very difficult to throw all of my papers up in the air and just let life unfold as it may. I am always looking years ahead but now I find myself only being able to plan 3 months at a time. Right now I am not even sure what will happen next month as my next body scan is January 27th. That will determine a yay or nay to surgery on my lung. However if that scan is clear then in February, am I stepping into the “had” zone? Maybe it is when I am off chemo and all I have is scars as evidence of my battle with cancer. Maybe I should stop thinking so much.

Chemo Sucks

Well I can finally say I understand what chemo is really like. It started at around 12:00pm yesterday when I began to feel the full discomfort from the drugs. I was hot and cold at the same time and extremely nauseous. Thankfully I had a good friend by my side who consoled me while I shed a few tears (or a lot, but who’s counting). Coming home it only got worse. The nausea persisted and even made me physically ill throughout the night. If this adventure couldn’t get any more fun, I received a call today from my nurse that my oncologist is putting me back on the daily injections for white blood cells. Oh, and they are refusing to provide me with and at home nurse even though I explained in detail how bad my anxiety was last time.

This next step in my journey I can already tell will not be fun. Who would have thought after two invasive surgeries that it could get any harder. I know the overall thought is – it has to get a little harder in order to be better on the other side. But that is easier said when you are healthy and don’t feel like shit. So those happy people who I know are saying it to be nice – can screw off for now. Sorry.

Before

Dealing with my pain daily has become normal for me. Who ever thought I would say that? I feel like I have not been myself since July 20th, the day before my first surgery. All of the shit I went through during my hospital stays and all the days in-between really changed me. Obviously I will never be the exact same person I was back in early April 2014, but I would like to at least get back to the person on July 20th. Before I knew how scary life really can be. Before I knew what death looked like. Before I became used to being stabbed with a needle multiple times a day. Before I became comfortable just lifting up my gown to whoever came in that resembled a health practitioner. Before I knew what withdrawal feels like coming off of a pain medication. Before I knew how many days my body could go without eating.

My surgeon is amazed by how “well” I am doing. He says my fallen appetite is normal and most patients of liver surgery lose up to 25% of their body weight – so my 10-15 pounds is nothing. My first surgery was invasive, but he let me know my second was 500x more invasive, and I should lower my expectations on recovery. That is easier said than done. The way I feel in my head does not match the way my body is responding. “How bad do I really have to pee?” – I question this about every hour. That involves sitting up, walking to the washroom, and trying my best to sit on something not even close to comfortable. You try sitting on a toilet without using your abs. Near impossible.

Chemo is starting again in 2 weeks. A new friend appeared on my upper left lung that I now have to tackle. My body is not as strong as it was the first time I was on chemo, but my blood work looks good so back into the stadium I go. Bottoms up to the chemo cocktail.

Needles

My two biggest fears are needles and spiders. Leading up to my diagnosis I was stabbed so many times, my arms were bruised like a heroin addict. I used to squirm and cry each time, but I never thought I would become this comfortable. Needles used during my chemo have stopped making me feel faint and crying over (only the first time). I still cannot look when they take my blood or put the needle in my port, but at least there are no tears.

My last visit to the hospital they warned me that my white blood cell count was dropping too fast. To sum it up really quick, chemotherapy kills good and bad cells… my good cells were not reproducing fast enough. I had to be placed on daily injections for 8 days in order to help with this. I did not think anything of it at first, I have become a needle pro. Then they told me the real kicker to this whole thing, I have to administer the needle myself. I instantly said no, not possible. After much persuasion from the nurse, she assured me that it was very easy and 99% of her patients do it themselves. I was booked to come in the following week to the hospital for my first one.

Of course I was nervous, but I was trying to talk myself down from it.

“Diabetic people have to do this everyday… I can do this… ”

As if this adventure could not get any more fun, I had to draw the drugs from the vial myself. They taught me, let me practise and then said “go”. I took the needle off… drew from the vial… tapped out the bubbles… cleaned off the injection site on my stomach… and then sat there. Needle in hand I began to cry. How was I ever going to actually proceed with the motion needed in order to stab my own stomach with this needle? My mind was racing. My mom and friend were there for support, cheering me on. Finally… eyes closed.. one, two, three… I stabbed my stomach. Not the worst. Now I had the task of switching my hands and actually slowly pushing the drug in my stomach. Nope. Anxiety attack full swing… pass out mode engaged… the nurse had to take over.

Day two I had a nurse come to my house to be here in case I needed help. I was nervous but I tried to pump myself up. My pump up worked and I was able to do it from start to finish with no tears. Success!!!

Day three I began to draw from the vial and I noticed my needle was leaking. I started freaking out but the nurse again was here, and stepped in to help. I lost some of the medication so we opened a new vial, and drew the rest from that. My heart rate was up slightly from the set back, I took a deep breath. One, two, three… jab… except the needle just pushed my skin in and did not pierce. Annnnddd the anxiety came right on back. Heart rate up, tears flowing, the nurse took over.

Day four…. starts in 2 minutes. Wish me luck 🙂

By the way, needles is one thing. If you are afraid of them like I was, I am proof you can get over it… kind of. Spiders on the other hand…. If they told me I had to hold a tarantula everyday in order to feel better….. that’s a big cup of “nope”.

Like Christmas Morning

Throughout the years I have always heard the worst things about chemotherapy. So finding out I was going to be on one of the strongest doses was a tad overwhelming. I mean yes, it was going to attack and hopefully kill the bad cells, but at the same time kill the good ones too. I was put on the schedule of coming biweekly, with one of my drugs being hooked up in a bottle that I would bring home and that would flow into me for another 46 hours.

Treatment One

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During and after leaving I was thinking “What was all the hype about?” Yes I am a little tired but honestly if this is the worst of it, this shit is a breeze.

Treatment Two

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This was the start of my hair loss. Even with that I only had two bad days where I felt drained. I did have one morning feeling nauseous, but as soon as I put something in my stomach it seemed to go away.

Treatment Three

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This day so far was definitely the worst. I was sweating like a fool during and after leaving the hospital. I was also so exhausted I felt like I walked home from Toronto. That night upstairs on the couch all I wanted was cold pineapple. Too exhausted to even get up to pee (honestly in my head I would go back and forth with how long I could hold it.), I used my cell phone to call my house phone to ask someone to bring it up. My parents have been amazing, and my mom came upstairs laughing with the pineapple.

“Your Dad and I were laughing how you are really milking this cancer thing.”

Now before you get all judgy wudgy, I have been the WORST with the jokes. I constantly joke about my cancer. It helps to laugh about it instead of dwell. This night however I was extra vulnerable and they had no idea. I started crying.

“I’m not faking it though. I actually feel so sick.” I said with tears falling faster than Niagara Falls.

“Oh my goodness I am so sorry we were just joking! You know, how you do all the time!?”

“I control the jokes!!”

That was the last time they started a conversation with jokes. My poor parents lol. From that day I had another 2 days feeling like this, but still that was about it.

Treatment Four

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This was just yesterday. There was a lot of information thrown at me that day (which I will get to another time, in another post), but overall it was an easy chemo day. Even today I woke up feeling pretty good. That is how my mornings go now. I sit up and can pretty much instantly assess whether it will be a good or bad day. I did however find out before this treatment that my white blood counts are right at the minimum level. So as a lot of people on chemo have experienced, I am being placed on a self injecting drug for 8 days to help with my counts.

Overall my chemo days have become like Christmas morning to me. I look forward to every session and count the days leading up to it. Is it making me weaker, no question. However it is also attacking the little fucks that have put me in this state. For that, I love chemo :).

The Challenge

Two days after my diagnosis, I was sent to St. Joseph hospital to meet with my surgeon who would now be looking after my case. My doctor walked in the room and sat down with a picture of a liver. He began to explain the different quadrants of the liver, and how he needs 20% healthy liver tissue in order to operate. As he placed the cartoon depiction of the liver on the table he pulled out his pen, and the circling began.

“You have multiple mets on each section of your liver. At this time we are not able to operate. I will be honest with you, it is very rare in cases like yours I am ever able to operate.”

My mom, my dad and myself all cracked. He let me know he wanted to start me on chemotherapy right away. He set me up with an appointment to meet my Oncologist, as well as my day surgery for my Port-A-Cath. This was all going to happen in the afternoon. I started having a meltdown and asked everyone to leave the room

“So, now I am really going to die.” – This was the first thought that had entered my brain. In that moment I reverted right back to a child like state. I got up from my chair, climbed up on the doctor office bed, and laid down in the fetal position crying. My doctor returned to check in on me and we began having what I like to call “real talk”. It was during that conversation something came over me. This feeling of determination, of not wanting to be a pussy about it. “Suck it up, stop crying, get on with it.”, I told myself.

I sat up, wiped my tears, looked him square in the eye, and gave him my challenge – “I challenge you to a surgery. You will be seeing what my liver looks like within the year. Year and a half tops.”

“Ok Jamie. Challenge accepted.”

Beautiful

It is common knowledge that woman do a lot of things to make themselves look “pretty”. But who is it for? Do they spend countless hours perfecting their hair and putting on makeup so that guy in the bar might actually come over to them? Or, do they do it to make themselves feel better. Boost of confidence so they walk a little taller. I personally think it is both, but actually more weighted on the “do it for themselves” side. I was one of them. I didn’t go all out like a lot of girls. But yes, straightening my hair and putting on some eyeliner definitely gave me that little extra boost. I thought loosing all of that I would never feel that way again, but then something changed.

I knew from the chemo that I had a big chance to lose my hair. I have always had long hair, so the thought of it all going a way was a big deal to me. I think it would be a big deal for most woman. I even had my own little selfie photo shoot of my long hair after my first round of chemo.

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Then on May 20th, I got out of the shower and my hair resembled a large bird nest. It was a tangled mess of hair that had fallen out. I had a breakdown. There was hair all over the floor, the counter, it was everywhere. I could not handle dealing with that everyday, so I decided then and there, to get it all chopped off.

My doctors also gave me the instruction to not use any hot styling tool on it, as this could further the damaging process. So there I was, shorter hair then I ever thought I would see on my head, and it was its natural wave.

After I noticed that I no longer had underarm hair (now this was a welcome AMAZING thing), I realized the hair on my head was not the only hair vulnerable. I decided that day to also refrain from using eye makeup, as I wanted to try and keep every lash that I had.

Then, the other day I was getting ready for a jack and jill and I realized something. I was bobby pinning a piece of my hair back in the mirror and thought, “I look beautiful”. There was no hot styling tool looking hair, no heavy amounts of makeup on my face, it was just me. It was an amazing feeling. Woman everywhere should try this. It has probably been about a month or so since I first started waking up and just being me. Everyday I look in the mirror 50 times from when I am brushing my teeth, to getting dressed, but it was that one night a month later that changed my perspective. Now when I look at my reflection, I am confident in what I see. I actually have more confidence now in my facial appearance than I did before when I was hiding behind long straight hair and makeup. I heard once, if you try a food you do not like 10 times, your tastebuds adjust and you learn to like it. I have discovered it works the same with your own self image…… it just takes a little longer.