Sunday, August 29, 2010
I think this is the longest I've gone without writing a blog. I'll write more about the reasons for that later. First, I want to talk about the awesome birthday party I had last night. I wanted to have a party to celebrate 35, because there are a lot of people I don't see very often who have been in touch more since this whole thing started and I haven't had much time to see anyone. I also knew that I couldn't handle hosting a party, even if we had food delivered. Cleaning, telling kids what not to do, trying to fit people in my house, or alternately dealing with the horrible mosquitos of 2010 in our yard--it was all too much. And I knew I wouldn't feel well enough to have a party on my actual birthday weekend due to chemo. This weekend I figured I could probably taste food, and digest it, and that seemed like the way to go, since it would be depressing to not be able to eat your own birthday cake. And after this coming week, I might lose my sense of taste completely, so this was the only real time to do it. I chose my low-immunity time to surround myself with little germy kids, and my mom hosted at her house. Party time!
My mom might not have been prepared to have 50 people in her house, including 17 kids, the majority of whom were under 5. It's not really set up for kids. There are glass tables everywhere, for example. But somehow, nothing got broken, and everything went very well. I had a great time seeing people from various phases of my life--friends from high school and college, people I worked with in my 20s or knew from grad school, and the neighborhood folks I've come to know as a mom in her 30s.
Back in the day, before I had kids or even knew Gabe, I used to throw parties at least a few times a year. Gabe and I continued that for the 3 years we were together before Lenny was born. I would always make too much food and worry that no one would come, and yet I never planned anything fancy. I'm not much of a drinker and neither is Gabe, so some drinks would be involved, but mostly I always figured that if I fed people and talked to people, it would be ok. Each time I had a party I would feel really happy that we know easygoing people who can entertain themselves and talk to people they don't know that well. I would look at my house that I hadn't done much to before I invited everyone over, and think about the basic food or brownies that I would make, and wonder how that made for a fun party. And everyone would always say they had such a great time. I started to realize that people just like to leave their houses and do something different, and not much was really required in the way of preparation. If your friends are unpretentious, your parties can be too!
Once we had kids, we seemed to only host the annual kids birthday party with a few little friends and their parents or have small parties with parents we know in the neighborhood. Now I am inclined to go back to at least a yearly party with my friends from various walks of life, once all this calms down. Not that we really have room for 50 people, but hey. Maybe no one will come. One of these days, when I think that, it might actually happen. But not yet--it hasn't happened yet.
Most of the time last night, I didn't talk about cancer at all. That was very nice. It came up of course, and I'm sure that some of the people who hadn't actually seen the bald Katy in person might have been taken aback, though no one said so. I thought about wearing a wig for about two seconds and realized that was just not going to happen. It's interesting how kids don't even seem to notice, or care about seeing a bald woman. They just ask about snacks and juice boxes and run around.
I was much more tired than I would normally be when trying to play hostess. I let Gabe run after Augie, who managed to climb all the way up one of the flights of stairs by himself in the split second that Gabe and my mom turned their heads. They each thought the other had him, and then we heard him crying upstairs. When Gabe grabbed him and brought him down he literally grinned and thumped his chest. He is a little devious brute! I love him to death but my god. If I didn't have cancer and if I wasn't going through chemo, the boy would wear me out. Lenny spent much of the time with my mom, totally overwhelmed by the insanity of all the kids. And I actually ate like a normal Katy, including two pieces of cake. I have gained weight in my birthday week, so I'm back to my pre-chemo weight--maybe even a pound more. What's this about a low-fat diet to fight triple negative breast cancer? Impossible when there's birthday cake around.
The theme of the night for me was to remind myself that I had a life before cancer, or more accurately before chemo, took over my day to day activities. People know me and like me for different reasons, and none of those reasons are because I am a "strong" or "brave" breast cancer lady. One friend from high school told me when she saw me for the first time in years recently that she thought it was weird that anyone ever associated me with my red hair. She said she associated me with poetry, and my love of matching bras and underwear, and the fact that I used to drive a huge Delta 88 Olds when I was really tiny and looked too small to be behind the steering wheel. Though no one else gave me such vivid descriptions of what they think about me, I know that for most people, it's closer to something like that. I know that my friends aren't my friends because I had pretty hair or was healthy or, alternately, because I am fighting cancer. I needed to be reminded of that. So much thanks and love to everyone who came out last night, as well as to those who couldn't make it.
I really needed that party, because there's a reason I haven't written a blog in a week. I've been pretty depressed. I didn't want to write before today because if people knew how I was feeling, they actually wouldn't have shown up last night. Let's go party with the downer lady! Now, I know some people get depressed at "big" birthdays, like 30 or 35, but that's not it. Going through this sudden, violent menopause has really brought me down. Most women have decades for their bodies and psyches to get used to "the change," and if I was 50 or even 45, it would be that much closer to a normal timeframe in my life for this to happen. But to be in full blown menopause at age 35? And be bald at the same time? Facing the likelihood of further changes from taxol that will make me feel ugly or old, like losing my eyebrows, having peripheral neuropathy, or gaining weight because of the huge amount of steroids required for the treatment? Depressing, and more depressing. I'm glad I don't have hot flashes from menopause. But just losing my period is sad enough, since most people my age lose it due to pregnancy, not the opposite of pregnancy. Here I am, 35, and I suddenly out of nowhere can't have sex without over the counter assistance. I'm moody, which is one thing I have not ever really dealt with--I never had much PMS or anything. And it makes me almost unbearably sad.
It's very, very hard. And it's not something I can talk to friends about, because obviously none of my friends are going through it--I don't really have friends who are 15 years older than me. I know a few people who are breast cancer survivors, so I can talk to them. For some women, this menopause is permanent. I hope to god I'm not one of them. There are reasons beyond the immediate ones for wanting to avoid permanent menopause at my age. Ironically, losing your ovarian function puts you at increased risk of ovarian and colon cancer, in addition to a high likelihood of osteoporosis. How is that a good trade? Let's risk a deadlier, more insidious type of cancer, in order to fight the early stage palpable one that probably wouldn't kill me anyway.
This whole thing just seems like a bad trade right now. I hate it when some of these issues that chemo brings are called side effects. Losing your hair, fingernails, ovarian function, lining of your esophagus, tear ducts, taste buds, etc. are NOT side effects of chemo. Chemo is not a cancer-fighting medication at all. It is medication that kills fast-growing cells--all of them, in a case like a/c chemo--and cancer cells are some of them. When the rest of this bad stuff happens, it's not due to "side effects," it's due to the medication doing it's job.
Regardless, I feel like I've given up so much: my hair, tears, sweat, fertility, energy, normal sexuality--I've given up, at least temporarily, my youth. All for something that might or might not work to fight an early stage cancer that never spread. It just makes me tired. I'm tired of it already. I'm tired of talking about cancer, and writing about it, and most of all I'm tired of having it and having to treat it with this damn poison. I feel like breast cancer would have barely affected my family if I didn't have to do chemo. Surgery and radiation? Please. That's nothing. Lenny would have probably never even noticed, except that I got a little tired or couldn't do things for a few days. I could blend in with the world. Gabe could be my husband first and my caretaker second, rather than the other way around. Chemo just doesn't seem worth it. If anyone reading this gets breast cancer later in life--I sure as hell hope not but odds are about one in seven women will--don't quote me on that. I don't want to be the one turning people off of chemo, but man, is it a lot of bullshit.
And I am scared of taxol, because it's new and different and I don't know what to expect when they stick that IV in me for four hours this coming Wednesday for the first time. Cancer for me has been largely pain-free, with the exception of my surgeries, of which the first was much worse than the second. But surgery pain doesn't last forever. I had crazy pain in my upper arm from a nerve getting nicked with the sentinel node biopsy. That was bizarre--if a light piece of fabric or even a feather touched my arm the pain was excruciating. It lasted a month or so and then just disappeared. That is the type of pain, in the nerves and also in the muscles and bones, that taxane-based chemos can cause. I am never afraid of pain, as I got used to it at an early age. But I don't welcome it at all.
And I want to be able to button my shirts and hold my kids without neuropathy making it impossible. I am scared that I will be one of the 15% of people who is allergic to the solution they have to mix taxol with so that your body doesn't get destroyed by the poison. I am nervous that my veins will give out, since last time the first IV stick didn't work and the bruise on my arm from that still has faded but hasn't gone away. I am worried that my numbers will go down, as many people have that problem after 4 a/c rounds, and my chemo schedule will be pushed back.
Mostly I just want to be done. I want it to be Halloween, or my six year wedding anniversary, which will fall three days after my last chemo if all goes as planned. I don't look forward to starting radiation, but I know I can handle that, no problem. I wonder what kind of post-cancer woman I will be. Will I be like the woman I met at Carson's yesterday (I got five pairs of really cute shoes for $50--I love having small feet--they always have my size!) who saw me in line and asked if I was doing chemo. I said yes, and she said, me too--I did it twice. In 1990 and it came back in 2001. But God is good and I'm still here. I said, wow I'm sorry you had to do it twice but you look great and it is good to still be here. Then she gave me this sly look and said "and look!" She pulled her shirt down and showed me her port scar. A total stranger in a department store was showing me what could be considered a pretty intimate thing, laughing and asking "you got one?" I told her I didn't, that they were giving it to me in the IV and I showed her my bruise. That is some weird kind of bonding.
Maybe I'll be the woman who never wants to talk about it or think about it. Maybe I will join a support group, something I can't imagine doing. Maybe I'll be proud, or angry, or scared, or indifferent. Right now I'm just sick of it. I mean, I know I CAN do this, but I will put it out there and admit I don't want to. I'd rather just be healthy. And I know I can pull off being bald, but I still kind of hate it. I'd rather just be conventionally attractive.
I would rather be done.
So maybe what I need to do is plan a holiday party for right after radiation and before Christmas, once I know that I'm on schedule to start radiation in November. And people will come, and they can talk to me about non-cancer things, and they can eat the food that I should be able to cook by then, and maybe I'll have a little peach fuzz on my head, and I will be used to being a young woman who prematurely aged a few decades in as many months, and the future will seem like a real possibility and not something much farther away that I concocted in my imagination.
In the meantime, I am very grateful that I had one night like that anyway, even in the middle of all of this. And I had a moment that should bode well, if I believed in that type of thing. Once most people had left and just a few families remained, I saw a flash of light out of the window and thought oh shit, it's raining. But no, it was fireworks. They seemed to be coming from just a few buildings away, which doesn't make any sense. We're in the middle of the west loop and there are random fireworks going off at 9 pm on August 28? What's the occasion, beyond my birthday party? Of course everyone claimed they had ordered that for me. It was a decent short little fireworks display and Lenny in particular was really excited about it. If you don't believe me, I even took a picture. For more party pics, check out gallery.me.com/gabester --the KatyDid 35 album. So in the end, KatyDid 35, didn't she? Maybe even with a little bit of pomp and circumstance.