Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hopefully Forever

I'm almost excited as I go to Tower for round 9 of chemo because I'm in the final stretch. Just 4 more to go. 4 more weeks and I'm done with this shit. Hopefully forever. My infusion is uneventful. Well not totally, but mostly. For the past 2 weeks I had asked various people at Tower several times when I was supposed to see Dr. McAndrew and never received an answer. Then today I'm told the only time she can see me is either on the the worst day/time for me or after I'm finished with chemo. That's fine by me but Angela says I have to see her sooner. She somehow works her magic and I get an appointment during my last chemo session which is much more preferable. Just 3 hours after the drip begins I go home to be with the boys. I am so tired I can barely stand up. It takes me forever to put Miles to bed because he "no want it the bed." Plus my back's still out so I can't really soothe Baron who doesn't like it when I sit down. Baron was set to sleep at my parents but I send him to them earlier than I had planned because I just need to rest. It's a necessity but I feel like the worst mom ever. Again.

I spike a crazy fever a few hours later. I have the chills and am so achy I can't sleep. It's horrendous and I'm in agony. I watch the numbers on my clock get later and later and sometime after 2 I fall asleep. Not one hour later Miles wakes up crying. Boris gets up. When he leaves Miles' room Miles starts screaming bloody murder. Perhaps Miles picked the worst night ever to begin having separation anxiety? He screams for an hour. Boris goes back in to his room every few minutes to tell him that we love him and are here for him but it's time for sleep, but nothing works. We're up until after 4 in the morning. So much for getting some sleep.

Amazingly, although I'm tired, I feel remarkably better when I wake up. My fever is gone. Instead of resting like a normal person, I take Miles to a nearby construction site that has a mini-loader, bulldozer and digger in action (yes, I know the difference between all 3). It's paradise for Miles. He sits down on the sidewalk with his mouth agape and just stares for almost 20 minutes. I take him home and then leave for lunch with the Slate Mates. Katie 1 invited me even though I've decided to use a different plastic surgeon. We get to the restaurant and are led to the back. 15+ women with perky breasts line a long rectangular table. As I speak to several of the women and see 15+ pairs of boobs in the bathroom I start to freak out that I'm not using Dr. Slate. These women adore him and love their tatas. I meet a woman who removed her breasts prophylactically because she's a gene carrier. Her daughter was 4 months old when she had her surgery. Baron will be the same age when I have mine. She said that she couldn't lift her baby (let alone her older child) for 4-6 weeks. Several women tell me to forget lifting babies. I won't be able to open a bottle of Tylenol or the fridge or my purse for weeks. Holy shit. How on earth will I live without picking up my babies for that long?? I already feel like other people spend more time with Baron than me and now it's going to get worse. Plus, I'm not going to be able to be alone with my boys for a month or more. Nightmare. Not more of a nightmare than say...cancer, but nightmare.

One woman tells me a story that makes me doubt my choice for a general surgeon as well. Now I am totally panicked about my decision not to use Dr. Phillips or Dr. Slate. I think I've made a horrible mistake and am afraid I won't be able to change my mind. Again. I get into my car and start rescheduling surgery with Dr. Phillips and Dr. Slate. When I get home, both boys are sleeping. Baron is sleeping in his crib (a miracle!) and I don't want to disturb him since if I live, I will ultimately want him to be able to sleep in his own bed. So I sit without either of my boys (which makes me cry) and cancel surgery with the doctors I had finally chosen and call my brother to let him know I'm going to need his blood (for some reason Dr. Phillips says it's likely I'll need a blood transfusion while the surgeon I just canceled surgery with said I wouldn't.). Sigh. I'm kindof a wreck, but in the afternoon I take Miles to the park and we have so much fun. He's so social and unafraid. He waltzes up to a 5 year old and says "what's your name? Miles." We get home, I give Baron his bath and he smiles and coos at me for the longest time ever. After my panic attack that he wasn't making eye contact with me and that it was taking him too long to smile (I actually called my pediatrician to ask if Baron could be autistic and amazingly, she didn't tell me to knock it off but calmly said he is 3 minutes old and not autistic), he started staring me in the eyes while flashing me the biggest smile ever. He's such a happy baby. It's paradise for me.

My following 2 treatments are also uneventful. My counts roller coaster up and down but are always high enough for treatment. And I stop spiking fevers so I'm feeling better all things considered. The worst of my side effects are the neuropathy in my feet which is getting more and more painful and my taste buds are totally shot. Everything tastes disgusting, most of all water which I stop drinking. I'm probably giving myself a new cancer as I start chugging "Vitamin Water" which couldn't be worse for me. Plus Miles is constantly asking for "mommy's water" and isn't really buying my story that we're both drinking water. He wants to know why mine is flaming pink and his is not.

In between treatments I meet with Beth Karlan who is an OBGYN oncologist. I want to know when I have to remove my ovaries and have a zillion questions about the chemo induced menopause I'm currently experiencing, whether hormone replacement therapy or birth control (should I be lucky enough to need it) is safe for me and what I can do to ward off ovarian cancer. Dr. Karlan answers my questions to the extent they have answers. She says that she would be surprised if my ovarian function doesn't return (phew!) and that I will need to speak to Dr. McAndrew about birth control. "Birth control pills are a great way to ward off ovarian cancer," she says "but we're not sure whether it increases the risk for breast cancer." Great. But unfortunately there isn't currently an effective way to detect ovarian cancer which is why it's so deadly. She tells me about a study she's conducting on BRCA1 carriers and I offer up my blood and whatever else she needs. She and several of her colleagues are trying to understand why the gene affects women so differently (why some of us get breast cancer vs. ovarian cancer and why some women get one or the other earlier in their life rather than later). I'll be closely monitored with ultrasounds and blood tests and hopefully that will be sufficient until I have my ovaries removed. They've got to go by the time I'm 40 but the sooner the better. She says that if I'm not pregnant by 38 I should have them removed. Whether or not I can take hormone replacement therapy after their removal is up to Dr. McAndrew (it's also thought to increase the risk of breast cancer). She tells me to just get through the next 6 months and start to clear my head and to continue being strong for myself and my boys. She says something amazing about motherhood that I now can't remember because I started crying. I also cry when she tells me that doctors now think that pancreatic cancer may be part of the BRCA1 gene. Fucking great. My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer and Dr. Karlan suspects that he was the gene carrier, not my grandmother.

I also meet with Dr. Slate to discuss my upcoming surgery. I cry about 27 times during our meeting. I'm so sad this is really happening and happening so soon. I start the negotiations with him about when I can lift my kids post-surgery. He says 6 weeks. I say 2. We both say we'll discuss. He suggests I get a small set of stairs that Miles can use to get into his crib so I don't have to lift him as far. Fascinating. He says I should be able to lift Baron 2-3 weeks post-surgery but Miles...not so much. I tell him for the 497624 time that I want my new boobs to be as small as possible. He explains for the 497624 time that it's unlikely that I can have small boobs because he has to work with what was there and that I will have a large gap in the middle of my chest (think Tori Spelling) if I'm too small. Sigh. But I'm so happy with my decision to use him. His demeanor is so lovely and he's so understanding and caring.

The day before my last round of chemo I get beautiful bouquet of flowers from Boris. The card reads "one more to go."

And then it's here. The last Monday. Hopefully ever. Boris comes with me since it's the last one. Hopefully ever. I meet with Dr. McAndrew before my infusion begins. She tells me I am incredible and she's amazed at my spirit and attitude. "You never complained or felt sorry for yourself," she says. "You came in to fight and you were logical and brave. This should have been an only happy period in your life." I thank her even though I'm thinking that she just never saw me on the days I felt sorry for myself which were plentiful or the days where I cried myself to sleep out of fear. After our meeting, I'm led to a chair and Anne starts my drip. Boris sets our lunch on the table and asks me several times if I want my sandwich. I do but am busy doing I have no idea what and don't take it out of the bag. When he tells me I should eat for the third time, I sigh, roll my eyes and reach into the bag. Instead of pulling out a sandwich I pull out a big jewelry box. I look at him and smile. Then I open it. Inside is a stunning gold bracelet. Inscribed on the front is one word: warrior.

I say goodbye to Anne several times. "No offense," I tell her, but I hope I never see you again. "None taken," she says. "I hope I never see you either." At least not in the treatment center. I can just stop by to say hello during my check-ups with Dr. McAndrew when Dr. McAndrew is telling me that I'm fine and cancer free.

Hopefully forever.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sharon is Amazing

For the past 12 years, on my birthday, Nitasha asks me what the past year has taught me. I usually have to think pretty hard to come up with something. So this year, I'm prepared. Turning 35 with cancer makes you think about life. And death. A lot. The past year has taught me that I am amazing. Really. When all of this craziness began, people kept telling me how brave and strong and inspirational I was. I would just shrug and say that I was doing what anyone would do. Wouldn't everyone diagnosed with cancer while pregnant choose to have their baby despite making chemo longer and more difficult to handle? Wouldn't everyone have chemo and then take their son to the park a few hours later? Wouldn't everyone continue to see their friends and family on a regular basis during treatment? Wouldn't everyone get up in the middle of the night or early morning with their newborn? Wouldn't everyone rarely complain about what they're going through and feeling? Wouldn't everyone try to have a date night with their husband once a week (pre-newborn of course)? What I've learned this year is that no, they wouldn't.

If you didn't know I had cancer and what I was going through, you would never know from meeting me. Or being with me. Or seeing me. You might think my hair/fashion choices were questionable (since I still have no clothes that fit properly). But you wouldn't know. A dear friend recently sent me the most beautiful email that, among other things, said that I am "so fucking tough" that no one would ever know what is going on with me and that I am courageous and brave and she doesn't know how I found the ability to fight the way I do. My Aunt also left me a similar message after seeing me at the park with Miles 40 minutes after finishing chemo. She said that I "blow her mind" and that she hopes I give myself credit for being so amazing. And what I have learned this past year is that they are right. No need to shrug or think that everyone would act the way I'm acting. I am strong and a warrior and a miracle and tougher than pretty much anyone. Period. So fuck you cancer. I am amazing.