Friday, December 31, 2010
Day 239: Goodbye, 2010
I’ve never been so happy to get to the end of a year. Usually there’s a sense of wistfulness combined with the excitement of wondering what the new year will bring. Not this time. Sayonara, 2010. You were really not that good to us. I can’t think of another year with so much lost time, except for the months I spent in bed after my car accident. At least that lost time was in late fall and early winter, and I was a kid, so I didn’t understand time as well as I do now. We lost some of a spring and all of a summer this year, with a little bit of fall thrown in for good measure. I celebrated my son’s first birthday less than a month after being diagnosed with cancer and just days before my lumpectomy. Gabe’s birthday, my birthday, mother’s day (God what a nightmare that was, breast cancer walk and all), father’s day, the whole season of swimming and vacationing, which we didn’t do, Halloween, Thanksgiving—all of them with a big black C mark, marring the occasion.
Don’t get me wrong-- I’m happy to have made it to 2011. I know that many people with other forms of cancer do not make it 8 months past diagnosis. The hard thing about cancer treatment is how much you wish for it to end, knowing that the faster the time goes by to get you through it, the faster time has gone, and no matter how long you have, that time isn’t coming back. It’s still an incredible feeling to have it behind me, if only for a little while. Indeed, when toasting with friends over the last few weeks, people have often said that it would be hard to imagine that 2011 would be worse for us than 2010.
But here’s the thing--I can imagine it. My cancer could return, or metastasize. I might have to go through chemo again and it could be worse this time. I might lose my hair right after it has started to grow back, or I might lose one or both of my breasts. I could die. I can imagine all of these things, and all of them would be terrible, though of course only one would be permanent.
And yet I can’t control any of them, so I will assume that 2011 will indeed be better and that I will make it through another year. At least with every month that passes, I get a little closer to that magical three year mark. So far, it has been not quite 8 months. Twenty eight more to go! Will I feel like the old Katy by May of 2013? Who in the world can say?
It’s interesting how it is possible to learn to tolerate anything, to see things with the perspective of hindsight if you get the opportunity. I’ve said before that it is hard for me to believe that all of this has been real when I think about it. All of the fear, and the unknowns, have been the worst part. That and the damage that chemo did to me that hasn’t yet ended. I am still angry about killing my ovaries, going into menopause, having hot flashes in the middle of living my life—while taking a walk, cooking dinner, doing pilates, putting the kids to bed, having sex, driving, not to mention never sleeping due to having several of them an hour. I am still angry that my youth and fertility were destroyed for a cancer that didn’t directly involve my reproductive organs. But I am amazed at what I went through that ended.
It’s hard to explain—I feel like I’m not saying this right. It’s like when you go through a terrible labor and your baby is born, and you are eventually willing to do it again, because you know that you will get through it. Except it’s not like that, because I would rather eat glass than go through this again. But now that it’s over, I can see that I am more like myself than I am not like myself, or at least that I am not at all like someone else, you know? I would never have been able to see that months ago, before surgery, even after the second one, or in the middle of chemo. I would be beyond devastated if I had to do this again. But I guess what I’m saying is that I know now that I could do it, God forbid.
When I was in the middle of the worst part of AC, I went into exile from my family for a week since the kids had stomach flu. I was living alone in my mom’s house, and I called a relative who is a breast cancer survivor to talk about some of the bizarre things that were happening to me. I said I really don’t think I could ever do this again, it’s just not worth it. And she said, sure you could. You would do it, because you would want to live.
She was right, but I still have that nagging question that asks if this killing a mosquito with an atomic bomb approach is the only way. I got my Barbara Ehrenreich book for Christmas (we call it “Bright Sided” in the U.S., because the original title, which they still use in the UK, was deemed too offensive—it’s “Smile or Die”) and I’m going to check out another book called What Your Doctor May Not Tell you about Breast Cancer by John Lee, if I can find it. I’d love to have some partners in crime who agree with me about the notion that if we would accept that hormones and environmental factors can cause cancer, we could stop blaming people and start saving people.
Any way you look at it, I’m glad that I am entering into 2011 with an intact body and mind. I still have my breasts, and I’m happy about that. They’re smaller, but they were already smaller since I got smaller as a whole. The left one is even smaller than that, and there’s a dent, a half-moon shaped scar and some scar tissue that feels like a very small tire inside of my breast. But even without clothes on, they look pretty good. The surgeon really did an incredible job. I haven’t had to buy a whole new wardrobe to figure out how to deal with my misshapen breasts. I haven’t had to amputate a body part, no matter how “useless” it is deemed to be. (It seems to me that breasts are actually pretty useful, since I fed two human beings from them for a total of 18 months, something that can’t be done with testicles, or feet, or arms, or anything). The scar from the sentinel node biopsy is almost invisible. I have no port scar, since I had no port. My IV arm looks normal. I don’t have lymphedema or neuropathy, so I can lift things and walk and exercise normally. My brain is still the same, from what I can tell.
And by God I even have some hair. We could start a betting pool on the color, but since my hair was always such a dark red I’d like to go with that idea. My eyebrows, eyelashes and all my other hair have returned. If I didn’t feel vaguely like someone else—like a boyish, yet old, version of myself—I could imagine feeling attractive again someday.
It’s at this time of year that we are all supposed to feel compelled to make resolutions, to change our wayward behavior. I was going to resolve to eat a low fat diet, since that’s supposed to be crucial for breast cancer survival, but boy have I done an atrocious job at that over this holiday season. But I will still add that to the list, because I’m more likely to stick to it if I said I would. Here are my resolutions for 2011:
1. I am going to try to eat very little fattening food, exercise for at least an hour and a half every day, and stay under 115 pounds if I can. No cancer recurrence can be blamed on lifestyle factors if I do that, since I can’t even drink a glass of wine anymore due to hot flashes and the only bad habits I currently have involve obsessive Facebooking.
2. On that note, I will try to engage with people less virtually and more personally. This year was a hard one for socializing for us for obvious reasons, but I am going to give it a go in 2011. That includes a resolution to try to meet new people or become friends with people who are friendly to me but not well known to me.
3. I am going to resolve not to try to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, because I now realize that most people just do something, and they turn around and realize that they’re grown up anyway without getting some life proclamation, and they need to support a family so they go to work, and that’s good enough. I know that’s the opposite of what I’m supposed to say, having survived cancer. I am supposed to find My Calling. I am putting it out there that My Calling involves recognizing that I have done enough non-work related things over the past few years (having babies, having cancer) that I can give myself a break with the career woman thing.
4. I am going to stand up for myself more and stop worrying about the consequences. I’ve learned that other things are far scarier.
5. I’m going to try to be more patient with my kids and my husband. I am an extremely impatient person, so this will be a tough one, but that’s what new year’s resolutions are for, right?
6. I’m going to keep writing, whether it’s this blog or something else. Maybe I will try to publish at some point, but I’m essentially lazy about things like that, so I don’t really see that happening. However, it’s a resolution, so I’ll put that out there.
7. I’m going to try to live as if I never had cancer, as if I was never bald, as if I wasn’t an ultrasound appointment away from the grave, while recognizing that I did, and I was.
I think that’s enough for me. Now let me make some resolutions for other people, specifically the medical community and breast cancer awareness groups at large. Is it my prerogative to do that? Probably not, but who cares? It’s my blog, damnit, so here goes:
1. Resolve to make some progress in the death rate for breast cancer, which hasn’t changed in decades, or in the diagnosis rate, which has only risen.
2. Do some work to pursue less lethal types of treatment, including less toxic chemo and less reliance on extremely dangerous and expensive drugs that seem to have little benefit, like Avastin, which has been completely removed from the market for breast cancer after years of putting women through hell. Continue progress on alternative therapies for side effects.
3. Start looking into how hormones really affect breast cancer. I feel that if I knew what my hormone baseline was—before going on the pill, after going off of it, before getting pregnant, hell, at least before chemo destroyed all my hormones—I would understand better why I had breast cancer. Even though I’m triple negative, all that means is that injecting one of three hormones into my tumor didn’t make it grow. There are a lot of other hormones, and it’s the interactions of things that trigger cancer, I believe. Maybe it wasn’t being on the pill for eleven years, but going off of it and getting pregnant quickly. Maybe the hormones from lactating interacted. All I know is, hormones have always affected me severely. They turned my hair curly, probably gave me epilepsy and then cured me from it. They made me unable to lose weight after Lenny was born—two and a half years with almost no progress, no matter how little I ate or how much I worked out—and then lose it like gangbusters as soon as Augie’s boy hormones jumpstarted my metabolism. I mean, I am 35, 5’5”, and I’ve had two kids. 113 pounds? How the hell ELSE did that happen? Please try to figure it out, doctors.
4. Start listening to women’s concerns about breast cancer treatment, years of mammograms with extra radiation, and side effects. Don’t tell us about any more “onlies.” In other words, no more telling women it’s “only” your hair, breasts, ovaries, libido, or whatever. I get to decide what is important to me, and I don’t think people with cancer have to have such low expectations that anything short of death is a welcome alternative.
5. Stop telling women how to behave if they get breast cancer. This is not a rite of passage, a gift, a sisterhood or some fancy club. This sucks. No one would tell a man with testicular cancer or prostate cancer to buy a blue teddy bear and sing kumbaya with his buddies. It’s fine if some women want to do those things, but they are no better or worse, no stronger or weaker, than those who do not.
6. And finally, STOP PIMPING BREAST CANCER. I could go on about what that means, but here’s the ultimate example: Some website was telling women to “show your tits for breast cancer.” Healthy women—not those with breast cancer—were being encouraged to send in pictures of their bare breasts to this site (to be distributed all over the world, without a cent going to the women who were pictured) so some pittance could be paid to some random breast cancer organization. Breast cancer as an excuse for free internet porn! I wish that women with breast cancer would have sent their pictures in instead, so you could see the breast-less chests of women with double mastectomies, some radiation burns, lumpectomy scars, lopsided, nipple-less reconstructions. I guess I’ve done my part there, by putting some bald, scarred pictures of myself here on this blog, all covered with sharpie. Maybe that’s a good slogan for me: Show your breast cancer for breast cancer! But really, enough’s enough. Find another way to sell products. Suffering, disfigurement and death shouldn’t be moneymakers.
There, I got that out of my system. Now on to a new year, a new beginning, and to a new normal for what's left of the old me. On a lighter note, on to a new year's party--Gabe made me vamp for the picture, in case you were wondering if I really had lost my mind.
To my old acquaintances, who shall not be forgotten, be healthy, and if something happens and you can’t be, just be yourselves, and have a Happy New Year.
Here’s to 2011.