Monday, April 19, 2010

The Road to Recovery

At my last appointment, my oncologist said to me, "Did you make it to the field trip you were planning on? Because, you really looked like you were white-knuckling it"

And he held his hands up in a claw shape.

He got it right on the mark. Dr. Blair is a smart man. I had felt like I was hanging by the tips of my fingers on a rock wall with a thousand foot drop below during those days. The field trip he mentioned was the Regional Science Olympiad contest, and I accompanied my son only three days after chemo, barely hanging on.

This weekend was the State Competition. My last chemo ended 16 days before and what a difference 16 days makes.

The competition was held in Fresno. For those not in California, Fresno is a pit (sorry Fresnoians, but you know it's true) 165 miles south of Sacramento. You drive smack dab in the middle of rural California to get there. This is the part of the state that you non-Californians don't know about and probably never will because it's pure farm/factory country with nothing touristy to do.

Hollywood, which is where everybody gets their idea of this state, doesn't want to acknowledge that real people live here - people with imperfect teeth, who can't sing or dance and who are uninterested in show business. They forget that not all Californians sell dope, vote for Democrats and build tunnels under streets for frogs so the critters won't get squashed by cars.

In fact, Hollywood has done such a good job of selling California as a place of hippie weirdos or beautiful people with designer clothes, that I'd forgotten myself that normal people live here.

Even though I am one.

Thinking a long car ride might be too much for me, we broke it up by stopping for lunch in an area that reminds me of Iowa or Kansas or somewhere that I've never been. We chose a diner/coffee shop where men in overalls were talking about their farms and how much they disliked the government as they bought each other coffee.

I bet they had rifles in their trucks.

The only difference between California and Iowa might be that half the items on the diner menu were Mexican. I almost went for the Huevos Rancheros but just decided on fried eggs since I can't taste anything anyway and why pay an extra buck when it's now meaningless to me?

Our plans were to go down on Friday, spend the night, spend all day on campus for the Science Olympiad, and then spend that night there and go home Sunday morning. Most of the other families were leaving after the awards ceremony, but I felt a 3 hour drive might be too much for me after 6:00 pm.

The difference between the two competitions was for me, night and day. I volunteered at an event both times, but this time I stood for 2 hours without thinking about cancer, and last time I ducked out and tried to find a place to sleep. This time I walked the campus and watched the events - and didn't think about cancer. Last time, I spent most of my time huddling on a bench, trying to muster the energy to get through the end. This time, I chatted with teachers and other parents. Last time, I isolated myself because talking used too much energy.

In fact, this time I felt so well that I...well.... I felt normal.

It was only during the awards ceremony that I started to feel exhaustion creeping in. It was in the 80s outside and with thousands of people in the MP room and no air-conditioning, it was pretty hot. Normally, I don't mind being hot but when you add hot flashes to sitting next to a thousand people, you have an entirely different hotness experience.

The excitement of the awards was also wearing. Our team came in second, time after time, event after event. Our biggest competition kept coming in first, and it became discouraging. My son was a medalist in every event he participated in so he personally did well - but sadly, his team ended up second in the state - so close, and yet so far.

Being a mother, I'd have gladly done three more rounds of chemo if he would have won. (Chemo: my new standard for torture.) He's been working extra hours every day for five months to prepare for this competition but as I well know, life teaches us harsh lessons sometimes. The kids from other schools have studied hard too. His team came in second and he will have to wait until next year, high school, to try again. But, all is not lost. He learned lots of science being on the team; he learned to be part of a group dedicated to success, and he learned intellectual team work. So, he really did come out a winner.

He just doesn't know it yet.

As for me, my recovery from chemo is not complete, but I've turned a bend and now feel like I can see the end. I couldn't be more amazed at how far I've come, especially when I read back to that post I made just a few weeks ago. Aside from bone aches and a strong need for 12 hours of sleep a night, I'm on the Road to Recovery, and it feels so good.

As long as that road isn't leading to Fresno, that is.


  1. You are not going to be happy - or maybe you will get retested!!!! I am looking forward to your blog on THIS one......

    Rick from Boston

  2. I am amazed at how well you held up. It sounds a bit grueling, even for someone who doesn't have cancer.

    Congrats to M and his team! He should feel very proud of himself, even if as a team they came in second. Most kids his age (um, mine for example) wouldn't have put in that degree of effort.

    Now take some time off and do something nice for yourself!

    XXOO Ingrid

  3. Yea, Feeling better and getting stronger after chemo is the best! Enjoy this part of the journey.....Betty

  4. Rick, I read that article. Surprising that the NYT didn't go into more detail. I know about the unreliable testing for HER2; it's widely recognized.

    There are two kinds of tests for it - the more unreliable IHC which tests the protein on the surface of the cells - maybe that's what they referred to as the chocolate brown and white ones? Then there is the FISH test, which is highly reliable. It looks at the genes and the DNA. I had both tests and came out strongly HER2 positive on both, so I'm pretty sure I don't need a retest. But, I think that article should have fleshed it out a bit more so maybe that is my blog post on the subject. It will be boring but not designed to scare people like the NYT one. How can a supposedly reliable paper run an article like that and never mention the kinds of tests that have been done and where the unreliability came in?

  5. It is kind of shocking to be past it and looking back. It took on sort of a dreamlike sense to me. Sometimes, it even surprises me to re-realize: yes. Last year, I had cancer and chemo and radiation.

  6. Sorry your son came second ... but I am sure he would rather be second and have you there by his side watching.

    I think we are at the same point ... we feel like we are getting there ... good news :)


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