Saturday, April 2, 2011

One Year Post-Chemo

Time flies when you are having fun.

Actually time gets a bit confusing after chemo. I had my last chemo infusion March 31st 2010. When I realized the date the other day, I was shocked. It certainly didn't feel like a whole year since I sat in that infusion room and watched and waited as the toxic yet healing drugs were poured into my body. I was stunned at how swiftly time was passing.

Then I remembered it hadn't been a year since I was in the infusion room - I finished herceptin in December, so it's really been only four months.


For those of you in the midst of it, who wonder if they will ever be the same, the answer is yes. I would say I am 98% of normal. I have tamoxifen pains (can't wear my beloved heels often due to aching hips), and I have shoulder (post-surgery) problems. But, the things that chemo did to me: drained my energy, made me pale and tired, killed off my blood cells, made my hands and feet tingle, made me bald - those are gone. My energy is restored and the same as it ever was. My hair is lush again, if a different color.

My recovery was brought to the forefront when my son participated in the Science Olympiad Regionals, this time as a freshman in high school. Last year, I wrote about attending the event ten days before my last chemo, and I discussed how very hard it was on me. I'll never forget that day for the physical difficulties it presented. This year was radically different. Not only did i show up at 7:00 a.m, but I was the volunteer coordiator, working in the back room, checking other volunteers and teams in, grading tests, running errands for the regional director. I did get out and watch events and take some photos, but I was working, and not feeling any different than anybody else.  I was not enduring the event, I was enjoying it.

What a difference a year makes.

One thing that has not recovered are my nails. They used to grow long and strong, now they are weak and brittle. They are so thin that I can feel cold and heat on my nailbed through them. The other lingering side effect is some minor short-term memory loss. To be fair, my memory was never very good. I was always terrible at learning names, for example. If you meet me, I will not remember your name, and I'm very sorry about that - it's no reflection on you or your importance in my life. I just suck at names and have tried all the tricks, even using mnemonics, to no avail. I call all the kids at my school "hun" which is kind of obnoxious, and it makes me sound like a 50s-era diner waitress, but I can't possibly remember 1500 names.

"Oh sorry, chemo brain!" has become my excuse mantra. Of course, it shocks the people who didn't know I'd had chemo but so be it. A good excuse is hard to come by.

Post-chemo, there are holes in my memory aside from what was normal for me.

You know how when you are a kid, you play with that blind spot in your vision? You look at two letters on a page and cover one eye and focus on one letter and move back until the other one disappears? My memory has been like that - move the wrong way and hit a blind spot. Somebody would tell me something and it'd be gone in an instant. I would be sitting at my desk and say to myself "I need to send an email to XX about XX" and in the time it took for my hands to hit the keyboard, I would forget what I was going to do.

We all have those moments - I had them before chemo. It was the number and intensity of them that was disturbing.

It used to happen 30 times a day - which is a guess, I couldn't possibly count them. It seemed to happen all day long. I refused to allow it to frustrate me. I kept pen and paper with me for times my boss asked me to do something - I didn't trust myself to walk the six feet back to my desk and remember. For those instant "I need to do some......thing....whaaaa????" moments, I just told myself that this was temporary. Don't worry. It'll come back.

And, it seems to have. Those moments are fewer and farther between now. Now what is left are the things I always struggled with - names, directions, places. I have some problems with word retrieval, including names of people I know well. I call my children by each other's name, for example. Not only that, sometimes a sentence is hard to get out and I stumble. It's a bit worse now but I have my coping mechanisms (GPS, technology, pens and paper) and am doing just fine, thank you.

Time is funny. When you are going through chemo, it's just head down, one foot in front of the other and it seems endless. Those months stretch out. You wonder and hope you'll be the same at the end. And, now that it has been a year, I can hardly believe it. It seems like yesterday..

 I'm here to tell you that you can be normal again.

 I am.

At least, as normal as I ever was.

My hair one year post chemo. Yes, I cut it!

In the coming days I will be remodeling the blog and adding some breast cancer videos. Please let me know what you think of them and if you find them helpful.


  1. You look fantastic! Freakin' great!!

    Woohoo for you and being done with this part.

    I wonder though, when is the actual anniversary? How do people count it? Is it the last time you had chemo? Is it the surgery day? What is 1 year cancer free?? I am still new to this, just going through chemo, and had the double mastectomy 2 months ago... when am I one year cancer free? I still have no idea how to count it all...

  2. I wrote about that very topic here:

    I think the consensus is there is no consensus. It depends on the study, the oncologist, the type of cancer, etc. For me, well, I decided that I am cancer free and have been since the day they cut it out. The rest was just preventative.

  3. Hi Anne, I have been following the blog since my dx in August 2010. Our timelines are similar, just one year later. I am also on Herceptin, so to see you have sooo much hair now is very encouraging. Just wondering when did you have enough hair to go out without any cover. Seems that the Herceptin may slow growth a bit. I just finished my chemo March 18th, having surgery April 15 and then to start rads. So good to see your progress, its gives us all hope. Beth

  4. great post, inspiring and encouraging. you look great and your hair is wonderful

  5. Hey Beth,

    Read this post I did, with photos, it shows my chemo hair timeline:

    My hair actually started growing back before I was done with chemo, although I couldn't go out that way, it was pretty straggly. May 2nd it was super super short, like Jamie Lee got a buzz cut, but that is when I left the scarves behind. I didn't notice that herceptin affected the hair growth, it grew in like hair is supposed to - about 1/4 inch a month. Mine is currently still pretty short but that is because we are going to let it grow out in a certain style and have to get the pieces in order. Eventually, it'll be shoulder length again, at least, if it looks okay being gray at that length.

  6. This is great to read, I am hoping that one year from now I can write a similar post on my blog! You look fabulous!

  7. Ann,
    I am happy you have made it to this point and it's great you were able to enjoy your son's event. Congrats on your milestone!

  8. Looks like summertime in Sacramento -- from what you're wearing. Good look on you. I like your hair. It's become a joke around here, the "chemo brain" thing. What will Megan forget today? I also religiously carry a notebook and constantly write things down in it. It's gotten to the point now that I think I also need a check list of what I need to remember to carry with me every single day, like my purse; I'm not kidding. -Megan-

  9. Thank you for honesty and humor! You are beautiful. I have included your blog in my latest post:

  10. That is great news that you are coping up so well with the chemo.there is a a lot of medical and surgical help and many new therapies as well.Good going buddy.

  11. Ann, You look great - better than before even, if I dare say so. As for chemo-brain forgetfulness, never having gone through that myself, I had taken to making myself notes a long time ago and still do. Even on vacation. There are a lot of things in life that can make you forgetful - as well as life itself and the brain filling up with too much to remember. :)

  12. you look beautiful! I'm just 3 months ahead of you post-chemo and I still have the chemo brain but also menopause brain since I had the ovaries yanked out last year stuff (not) your hair :) very cute. it IS amazing what a year can do, isn't it!

  13. I wish u all the best

  14. You do look great !! I finished one year on the 21st of February, this year. That's the last day I finished radiation after chemo. I still am having problems with my feet, but at least my nails are almost totally back to normal.
    I ended up getting Bells Palsy just before radiation ended, and that has left me with some discomfort as well.
    Wishing you the absolute best life has to offer !


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