BENEFITING: Our Clubhouse
ORGANIZER: Our Clubhouse
EVENT DATE: May 04, 2014
“Life isn’t fair!!!” and “Your health is everything.” are the daily quotes of having cancer. I finished my twelfth treatment of chemotherapy in March 2013. I cried happy tears that day. The thought of knowing that instead of being beaten down by another treatment in a month, I was going to be feeling better each and every day filled me with joy. My hair started to grow back, although it was all gray. As it started to grow, I dyed it my “normal” color and then it turned curly, just like so many people have said. My long straight beautiful hair is now a fro. I admit, some days I miss being bald, this fro is a lot of work. My eyebrows and eyelashes have yet to come back to the way they were, I doubt they ever will.
By the end of summer I was feeling so much better, I started to run again. It was so nice to be outside and enjoy the warm sun. The kids started back to school, I had energy to enjoy their activities with them. Life was starting to feel normal again.
As fall started, I had some pains and the same symptoms I had when I got diagnosed. I had already set up my six month CT scan from my final chemo, and the results came back with a growth on my one stupid ovary that was left. I went for some additional tests, and it was determined that this time it was just a cyst.
The overwhelming fear of having the same symptoms leads me to discuss a complete hysterectomy with my doctor. He basically blew me off for the last month of the year and then decided in January, when the cyst was still there that it would be a good idea to do surgery. Great idea, now that it was a new year with a new deductible.
So on January 29th, just a little over two years since my first surgery I was back in the hospital. This time to have a robot poke and prod and cut out what was left of my female anatomy. Easy-pesy-out-patient surgery. Not for me, as I spent the night in the hospital with complications and urinary retention. I was sent home with a catheter and returned the following week. Torture, pure torture. The urinary retention was cured, but as other issues arose over the next week, the doctor would finally determine that something went wrong in surgery and now there was a hole in my bladder causing me to be incontinent. Enjoy the catheter for six more weeks.
I had been training diligently for the half marathon prior to surgery and now once again my hopes of completing it were gone. The catheter was finally removed at the end of March and now I am on what they call a frequent emptying bladder program. I have been sick for about 2 ½ years now and I think this incident brought me to my breaking point.
The thing about cancer is all the other crap in life doesn’t stop. One would think that if you are unlucky enough to get cancer that the rest of your life should run perfectly, but it doesn’t. My ex-husband reminded me daily of why he was my ex-husband. From expecting me to skip chemo to show up at a court date, to driving the kids 550 miles round trip to see him while undergoing treatment, or paying him to drive out and see his own children. Boyfriends came and went, kids had bad days, refrigerators and microwaves broke. Things that are just a normal part of life, but are amplified when you are sick.
As I sat at the talent show this year at my kid’s school in extreme pain from that catheter, feeling beyond depressed this thought crossed my mind, this is my third year at the talent show being sick. I am so tired of it and life is so unfair. Then I remembered the first year I sat here and who was sitting behind me. There was a parent in our school who was diagnosed with a really rare form of cancer about a year before I was diagnosed. He was sitting behind me that first year in his skull cap, bald as me, but mine was covered by a wig. That next year when I sat there, still on chemo, he wasn’t there, he had died. And that third year as I sat there in horrible pain with that catheter, perspective came to me. I may be sick and in pain, but I’m here and I’m watching the two best children in the world rock that stage.
When you have chemo once a month, you normally are on the same schedule as several other people. We formed bonds and friendships in this hideous sea foam green room. Eight chairs all staring at each other, no privacy. After a couple of months you get to know these people almost intimately. You get to know their family members that come with them. You get to know what they once loved doing and now couldn’t.
Jeannette was the first person I got to know. Her first words to me were “You’re far too pretty and young to be here.” Who wouldn’t immediately fall in love with her!! Her husband would bring her and he would offer to beat up my ex-husband when he would come into town after the stories I would share about the hell he was putting me through during chemo. I adored them both.
We all met back up the following month for another round of fun, but I barely recognized Jeannette. In one month she became frail and looked so sick. She lasted a few more months, making it to her son’s wedding which we discussed each month. Shortly after the wedding, she was placed in hospice and died at home.
The Minister, as I called her, because I never really knew her name, started when I was about half way through my treatment. Her tumor markers were over 5000. I didn’t even know tumor markers could go that high. She walked with a cane and looked like death. She shared with me how she was a minister and how many people she counseled that were dying from cancer and now it was her and she couldn’t handle it. She told me she was embarrassed at how sad and scared she was. So many intimate details from basically a stranger. Her hair was falling out and I always left my head bald at chemo. She told me she was going to shave hers after seeing me and get a wig. The next time I saw her a few months later, she looked great. Her tumor markers were going down, and she had on a great wig. I was so happy to see her. She lasted maybe another six months and then passed. You know how those super-positive people say well she got that extra time, six months is nothing, it’s not fair.
I sat next to Janet almost every month. She was an awesome grandma that loved to cook and never missed any of her granddaughter’s volleyball games. She was active in her church, walked and even jogged a little. She came all the way from Ohio for treatment. As months went on and Jeannette passed, Janet had complications and needed additional surgery. After that she never fully recovered. As I was completing my last few treatments, she wasn’t there due to complications and not being able to tolerate the new chemo regimen. She passed this past December.
Tammy had been at that office for over 16 years. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was my age 38. She had a year of chemo like me and went into remission. After five years the cancer came back. She had been on chemo for 12 years when I met her. She would have a monthly maintenance dose and her cancer was treated as a chronic disease. They were unable to completely cure her cancer, but they were able to stop the progression of it. Every Thursday she would bring in baked goods from Oakmont Bakery shouting, FAT ASS THURSDAY!!!!
There are few joys during chemo, besides eating. Funny I know you might think we are all sick, but that comes a day or two later. Usually around 10:00am we are planning on what to have for lunch. Someone always goes out to brave the streets of Oakland to forage for food for us. Not that anyone would probably notice a bunch of people with IV poles on the streets of Oakland.
She would remark on how she didn’t remember what it was like to have hair or eyebrows. Yet even after all those years she would come in her wig. Prior to starting chemo she would go into the bathroom take her wig off and put on a bandana. I always thought after all this time, she still was not comfortable being bald in front of others. She had gone to chemo for so long, she would stop her pump from beeping and I think she could have removed the needle from her port if they would have let her.
After I finished my twelve month sentence, I would ask about her often. Then a few days ago when I was at the office for my second appointment that week to get my port flushed on a Thursday, I asked about her. Tragically she died of a massive heart attack. 16 years of fighting off cancer to die of a heart attack at the age of 58. I am still in shock and so unbelievably sad.
I have cried so many tears over these wonderful women who fought so hard against this awful disease. And now I am left alone out of our little Thursday Chemo group, the sole survivor. Alone with my own thoughts and fears of if and when this deadly disease may come back to me.
On May 3rd, I walk in honor of these amazing women that I shared so many laughs and tears with. I ask that you donate to help find a cure for this awful disease that affects so many of us and our loved ones.
The truth is you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.-Eminem