Saturday, December 4, 2010

Post-Cancer Life

On December 2nd, 2009, I had my first chemo infusion.  Last Wednesday, December 1st, 2010, I finished my last infusion of herceptin.  I had a full year of IV sticks, infusion rooms and chemical treatment.  I saw the cycle of the seasons through the window in that room.

My chemo nurses and their assistants had taken such good care of me during this year - their calm and professional demeanor were exactly what I needed - yet on days when I felt ill or out of it, they had the meds and advice at the ready to help me through. 

Because of their outstanding care,  I left work a little earlier than normal and stopped at Whole Foods and bought a shopping bag full of assorted treats as a thank you for them and the office staff.  I was grinning from ear to ear as I went in, and Joe - the only nurse who thinks I have fat veins (which is a compliment, trust me)  - told me I looked like I was about to sing "The Wind Beneath My Wings."

Surely he doesn't think I'm that sappy?  Joe, I thought you knew me better than that - you've seen  my blood, which is deep purple, not pink and frothy.

The song I really wanted to sing was Five Steps by the Davenports.

veins swell
you know me well enough to tell
five steps you're over

What a long, strange year it has been.  I'd outlasted all the people I started with and was a stranger in the room again.   Sadly, as my time ends, somebody else's begins.  As I watched my bag drip to the end, I listened to the conversations of  the chemo newbies beside me.  Two women were on their second infusion and still had their hair.  They were talking about constipation and the various side effects they'd experienced from the first one.  I almost opened my mouth to give them some tips, but then I thought - let them figure it out on their own, and get through it together.  We all find our own way through this experience.  I had my time, this is theirs.

It was 5:00 when I said, "I'm dry" for the final time, was unhooked from the airline tubing and the rolling pole, and left the room full of barcaloungers rocking silently behind me. 

I now begin my post-cancer life.   I have been told, in darling little pamphlets and by other cancer survivors, that I will feel adrift.  Uncertain.  Uneasy without the protection of drugs dripping into my system, without a doctor examining me monthly.  I will begin to fear recurrence and worry that my safety net has been pulled out from under me.

To that I say, "Um no."

"HELL no."

I don't even understand that kind of feeling. I didn't keep track of every appointment, but according to what I did put in my iPhone, I had over 70 medical appointments in the time between when I was diagnosed 16 months ago and now.

Do people really feel upset that they don't have to go see a doctor four times a week?  They feel lost when they aren't being poked or prodded or stuck or infused or poisoned or burned or cut upon?  They miss it and feel unprotected? 


I don't believe it.  I think it's made up by those pamphlet writers.  Once they write their "Getting Through Breast Cancer Treatment" pamphlet, they get their taste of fame and don't want it to end.  The writer has to scramble to come up with something else, so after a committee meeting, they come up with a "Post-Cancer Life" booklet and tell everybody they are going to freak out over not seeing doctors and having treatments every day. 

And, I guess some people buy into it, just like if you see an ice cream commercial thirty times you might start thinking maybe you want some ice cream, even if you aren't hungry.  Word spreads and now people are actually believing something is missing in their life because they are not burning gas to some medical office on a daily basis.

You know what my thought is? 

"I don't have one single appointment during the entire month of January." 

No, wait, that's not right.

"I DON'T HAVE ONE SINGLE APPOINTMENT DURING THE ENTIRE MONTH OF JANUARY!!!!!!!!!"  And, add a bunch of smiley faces and thumbs up icons and you will see how adrift I feel.

Adrift?  Nope.  I feel free.

Oh I still have appointments.  I'll see my oncologist every three months, and also have tumor marker tests every three months.  That's already 12 appointments in the next year.   I still need an abdominal scan, although I think I've had enough radiation so I might skip it and see if I can do an MRI instead.   I might need one more MUGA, and at some point another Zometa infusion and a mammogram.  But, I'm not reassured by these things - unless reassured is a synonym for annoyed.

I am now cancer-free and am ready to be done.  I have done everything I'm supposed to do to prevent it from returning.  I can and will do more, with diet and exercise, to stay in remission the rest of my life.  Apparently, the cells in my body like to mutate and so I have to make sure I don't give them any reasons to want to do that again.  I will update you all on my progress.  But, I believe I will remain cancer free. 

I'm now the breast cancer ass-kicker that I told you all I would be back in September of '09 when I started this blog. 

Miss it? Adrift?   I don't think so.



  1. Hi Ann,

    Oh I wish it were so that feeling adrift is because of power of suggestion. I still am on Herceptin (forever) and Tykerb (for awhile.). I don't live my life in fear but there was this little period where the lack of intensive treatment made me worried. I didn't want to be worried, I was ecstatic to not have so many doctor's appointments, and I was glad that I had healed, etc., but that little depressing, nagging feeling set in.

    For me, it was because all those scary thoughts that I repressed during treatment could no longer be repressed. I got through the stage quickly, but it was very real. I was so surprised that I went through that stage. In fact, I was shocked. I just finally became cognizant of how real the cancer diagnosis really was.

    Now I can safely say that that feeling is long gone. It came and I never figured that I could have experienced that. Hope you are right that you can control the
    feeling that can come over you, for no good reason at all. I thought I could too and that I was too strong to get submerged in the trauma of treatment. I don't think I will ever have to do treatment again, but for that little bit of time, I got a little gloomy about the possibility that it could ever become necessary again..

    Congrats on your recovery. Here's to staying healthy.

  2. Congrats for getting it done. Hoping it's all smooth sailing for you!

  3. What an awesome post! I found your blog a little over a month ago, spent round 4 of AC chemo recovery reading it from the beginning and just had my first dose of Herceptin on 12/3. Thank you for sharing your journey, infusing it with humor and not holding back on the details. I added you to my blog so I remember to check out your updates as my brain continues to melt from the chemo :o)

    Be well!

  4. I completely agree with what Joanna said. i finished chemo almost 5 weeks ago & have had off & on feelings of depression and anxiety since. I also think it's because I did NOT let myself think about reoccurence or dying during treatment - my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 months after I was & was getting started with her own battle - no way was I going to put those thoughts in her head as well as mine! So after treatment THEN all those thoughts began to creep in. Every day is better than the day before, though, and I'm also looking forward to being in remission for the rest of my life :) Thank you for your blog & sharing with us!

  5. Heather and Joanna, you two bring up good points. Being so focused on treatment that you hadn't thought about the worst possibility makes sense. When the flurry of activity is done than you have time to dwell on the bad possibilities. Never say never, but my mind has already been there/done that. I even planned out my newspaper obit. :) So, perhaps I'm already past that part. Or, maybe worry will start somewhere down the road. For now, I'm just very glad I don't have to see a doctor until February!

  6. I wish you well, friend! You will feel "free" as you pointed out! And believe me, there's no better feeling in the world!

  7. Ann-
    that glee of having no more doctor appointments so close together is very real and I say ENJOY IT! I need to see my oncologist again and was offered an appointment for this week but told them, no, I can wait, I have CHRISTMAS to work on and am, well, too busy for him! Ha! I am only putting it off a couple of weeks just so that I can get caught up on things that this crazy season demands. I think for me, nagging medical issues have prevented me from sailing off into the sunset without him. It just continues to be one thing after another, some caused by surgery, some caused by chemo, a trap of sorts, designed to keep me in its grip. Try as I may, I just can't seem to escape. Just when I think I have conquered one problem, another seems to emerge, forcing me back to see someone or go for one more test. I use it as an opportunity to go visit my chemo friends in the ward, to lift their spirits, and try and forget those awful months when I sat next to them. By seeing me, maybe they will find hope that they too can kiss the drip goodbye. In the meantime, I try to remain hopefully optimistic yet ever aware of cancer's ugly side, and my resolve to keep it at a distance. I'm not sure when we finally get to put it all behind us. Maybe for now, PARTS of it get to be "behind" us but others stay at close range so that we don't get too cozy with NED. I've seen too many cases where he deceptively tricked a woman into a false sense of security. The trick is balancing that safe zone with the reality zone and not getting too carried away with either.

  8. What a great blog entry, Ann! Congrats... you've enlightened us so much these past 12+ months. Your bravery, honesty, realistic (and sarcastic?) look at life, and wonderfully communicative writing style has touched people's lives. I'm sure I'm not your only blog reader who clicks in every few days to see how you're doing - not only because we love you (me in particular because you're family), but because your story-telling is so strong - you've made me, and probably countless others, happily engaged in your life, your struggles, your successes. I hope you do continue to blog just so we can 'stay in touch' with you. It's so awesome to have an ass kicker as a big cousin! :)

  9. I'm in a bC clinical trial, and I can't wait to be done. I do worry about cancer's return sometimes, but worrying does nothing good, so I just move on...

    I'm so glad that you're doing so well. Enjoy life beyond treatment!!!

  10. You go, girl, and stay gone. I'm so glad you're not looking in your rear-view mirror; don't give this sh!t that kind of power over you.


    p.s. your boobs look AMAZING. tres jealous.

  11. congratulations on finishing. you WILL have your month of freedom - and then what you will have is doctors watching. and that's a good thing. a watched survivor. better than being unwatched. i have just passed my 5th year since diagnosis (but not since finishing treatment...that will be late june) and my surgeon just changed me to once a year. it took everything i had not to insist on seeing her in 6 months.
    i wish you many many many many more unencombered months. look forward.

  12. Congrats on finishing treatment! If you are one of the lucky few who in a couple years or months DOESNT think (even with the smallest twinge) that sharp pain in your shoulder is a recurrence, that pain in your stomach is metastasis good for you!

    Its sometimes hard for some to make the immediate switch from "Fight for your life, your insides are on fire!" to "Ok no more treatment, fire out, your ok, pass go, live your life normally".

    You kinda feel like "Are your sure its not smoldering, but it was a 4 alarm fire, are you sure".

    How i envy you! We all in our own way walk the fine line of not looking back, but also being realistic that we have to be vigilant even in the years to come.

  13. You are so lucky to be so free.....some of us don't get off that easy. Not everyone is the same- I seen the title -Post Breast Cancer and thought- great maybe it'll be someone like me.
    Not so....some of us still fear cancer after treatment and almost feel like not living to the fullest because if it does come back and we don't make it; the loss won't be so bad for our loved ones. If you are done with treatment and feel stuck this may be why- if we understand that it can happen and is normal we can work with it. I love my family so much and death is nothing compared to maybe having to say good bye to a child- when you are parent you never stop worring about a child.
    I'm so happy you are done!
    I struggle after treatment still- my faith in God and support of family keeps me looking up.


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