Saturday, September 30, 2006

End in sight

I'm down to my last week of treatment. The last week of this 6-plus month journey is here. I've finished the main radiation treatment, and next Monday through Friday I'll have the "boost"--a beam more narrowly focused along my lumpectomy scar. I've developed some redness, though it's very mild, and fortunately next week's treatments will avoid the red areas. Hopefully I'll get out of this round of treatment with minimal scathing.

And as of Friday, October 6 at 11am--I will officially be Done With Treatment. I can move my magnet from the "cancer patient" column to "cancer survivor." I can hardly tell you how exciting that is. Noah and I will be taking the day to celebrate--meals with disregard to diet, blatant ignoring of work, and whatever fun activity we can muster.

And at 9pm--yes, perhaps I have odd priorities in my life--we'll get to see the 2-hour season premiere of Battlestar Galactica, my favorite favorite show. It went on summer hiatus back in March, around the time of my surgery, and I have been looking forward since then to this premiere--partly because I love the show, but partly because I expected all along that treatments would end about then. The confluence is gratifying.

Hair updates soon, I promise! And the diet is still going great--I'm almost 20 lbs down now.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Two days after my last post, I went to the urgent care clinic in Manhattan Beach, and was diagnosed with a bacterial infection and given amoxicillin. I had to cancel my MBA classes for the first time ever when I could barely speak or walk on Tuesday. And I still have most of my symptoms today, Sunday, two days into Week 3 of the cold.

We'll post new hair pictures soon, because there is visible progress--although again, it's 7 weeks after chemo, and I thought I'd have a lot more hair by this time. Eyebrows and eyelashes are coming back well, though they're still stubby. Basically, I am making forward progress, but it is very, very frustrating how slowly that progress occurs--and how many steps backward I have to take on the way. The cold is a prime example. It really sucks to get so sick when I expected to be healthier and healthier.

I've heard many people say that things get harder after treatment ends, before everything gets easier. That is starting to make a lot of sense to me. I am still 2 weeks from the real end of treatment, but I want my life back NOW, and it doesn't work that way. Argh.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Quick update

Things are going OK. I've finished my 3rd week of radiation, if you don't count the one day off for Labor Day (which has to be made up later), so I'm halfway to the end of that treatment. Yay. So far I seem to be responding fine, at least in terms of side effects. I have a little bit of redness, not exactly like a sunburn, but like a little mild pinkness from the first day of summer sun after turning pale all winter. No real itching, which is a common source of trouble (scratching leads to faster skin degradation). I bought a couple of non-underwire bras, due to the edict of the rad onc, but one of them is actually more irritating than my underwires. And I've had some heavy-sleepiness kind of fatigue, which I can't be sure I should blame on radiation. It generally hits after a long day of teaching and meetings, and may just be because of that. So, in general I am doing fine with regard to radiation.

In other ways, though...not so good. I got a cold 9 days ago, immediately after a wonderful massage. Massages often stir up toxins in the body and you get flu-like symptoms, and this was really minor at first. I didn't have to take much downtime and was able to teach and attend to my duties all week. But two days ago, Noah came down with it in much more serious form, and then last night I was hit with a real whammy. My temperature shot up to 101.8, and the rad onc had said I must call my regular oncologist if it was over 101. So, at 11pm, I was calling the after-hours line at USC for the doc on call. His verdict: it's a viral infection, not what they worry about for chemo/post-chemo patients. I should hydrate and keep pounding the Tylenol/Advil. Fortunately, overnight the fever broke. But Noah and I are both feeling just lousy today. Lots of sleeping and moping, and not a lot of moving. He struggled out the door late last night to get us more symptomatic relief (Nyquil, etc.), but today we both seem unable to do much. Thanks go to his dad, who's in town and who dropped off lunch (which will probably also be dinner--it was big).

I think this is not cancer-related, and not even particularly compromised-immune-system- related. It's interesting to be just "normally" sick again--and hard to avoid letting it take on bigger meaning. The hardest part is that we are both laid low at once, which means neither of us can do the caretaking for the other. I just hope that we both recover quickly (for me, that my body is strong enough to do so). Like I said, our lives today are all about the sleep and hydration. Will let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dream a little dream

I'm not sure that the vaunted "positive attitude" is always a good thing--but occasionally, I am really comforted to realize just how positive my attitude seems to be.

In the last couple of months, I've had quite a few dreams that are clearly "about" my cancer experience. None of them is explicitly about cancer, or disease, at all. But the symbolism comes through loud and clear. Water has been a major symbol in all but one of the dreams. I thought I'd describe some of them here. Hey, after posting my bald head, why not lay bare my psyche as well? (Hair update, by the way: though it's barely visible, I have an even fuzz all over. We think the follicles are about to burst into bloom!)

Dream #1 (earliest): Noah and I were going to a wedding in Amsterdam and we were all dressed up. The only way to get to the wedding was to ride a "bike" that went not on land but on a water highway. I sat on the seat and pedaled; Noah rode on a running-board-like step just behind my seat. If I stopped pedaling or faltered, we would sink into the water and ruin our wedding clothes. Several times, people around us got submerged to our necks, and I was nervous the whole way; but we made it to the end of the water highway intact and dry.

Dream #2: I was performing in a circus show, and had to stand on a tiny platform up high in the air, supported by a single stilt. The platform kept swaying and buckling; I was terrified and kept moaning my fear to the other (unknown female) performer who was there with me. The circus ringleader shushed me, and forced me to stay there even as my panic mounted. I was sure something awful would happen--it was like my "chased by robbers" dreams, in which the robbers always catch me. But this time, after a period of terror, the show ended, and I was safely brought to the ground. (And then I went straight to the snack vendor for some bread...and this dream was before my diet!)

Dream #3: I was walking along a dock in a marina, and looking into the water, which was filled with menacing looking sea creatures--not sharks, but smaller, spiny things that were a lot more scary. All of a sudden I fell into the water, into the midst of all the terrifying creatures. I thrashed about and kept waiting for an attack, or to be eaten; but then I found steps to get out and escaped safely.

Dream #4 (just a few nights ago): I was in "Manhattan Beach" (looked nothing like the real thing), sunbathing and reading on a rocky outcropping at the coastline. The rocky area was just below an elevated pier complex with businesses. I was enjoying myself in a patio chair, when suddenly a huge wave came in and engulfed me; everything around me became ocean. I later realized it was a tsunami. I barely made it to the slope and up to the elevated area, above the inundation zone. I started back down to retrieve my stuff as the water began to recede, but everything was gone. I was very upset at losing not only my chair and book, but also something else that seemed terribly important, though I couldn't remember what it was. In the midst of my upset, though, I realized I had just survived a tsunami and was thrilled to be OK. I started walking uphill toward home. When I was almost there, I realized my keys had also washed away.

Though the last one had a late "gotcha," I'm really struck by how I always turn out OK in these dreams. I'm really hoping that my subconscious has a read on my overall health that's not accessible to the rest of me!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Diet milestone!

Forgot to post about my 3-week check-in with the nutritional oncologist. I lost 10 pounds in my first 3 weeks! She and I were both very impressed--she kept saying "wow" as she looked at the numbers, and then as she went through my food diary. I felt like I was a little permissive in my interpretation of the diet at times (read: I cheated), but she felt I'd been very faithful to it. Yay.

So--a third of the way there in just 3 weeks. I'm sure the next 20 pounds will be tougher, but at least the goal is that much smaller now.

An interesting note--my nutritional oncologist, Rachel, is also the n.o. working with Sheryl Crow following her breast cancer. (Add that to my surgeon, who operated on Suzanne Somers--I don't think you can dodge the one-degree-of-celebrity-separation here.)

And finally, thanks and welcome to all the friends and family who have joined me, either doing my diet with me or giving up some kind of indulgence themselves. It is great to have the company and support! Let's all get healthy!!

Watching the grass grow

So my hair should start growing back now. Any day now. Annnnnnnnny day.

They say growth starts about 3 to 6 weeks after chemo ends--that's some range! It's been 3 and a half weeks, and if you run your hand over my head, you can feel that it's rough, but not really hairy. Maybe it's like the 5 o'clock shadow of a teenage boy whose beard hasn't fully arrived yet.

Last night I had a great dream. I dreamt that one afternoon I reached up to my head and found hair! It was very dark brown, and curly, and about chin length. I didn't know it was there, but suddenly I was running my fingers through my own hair. Excited, I began telling people how I awoke that morning with beard-like stubble, but during the day my hair had grown out that much. It was quite wonderful. Now, today, I feel so dissatisfied, wanting that to be true.

A month or so ago, in my support group, a woman who'd just finished chemo complained of her own frustration with wanting to be all better, now, against the reality that getting better was a slow process. I sympathized at the time, but I didn't understand. Now I do.

Meanwhile, I am going to start the new Hair Watch 2006. In May, it was a hairloss watch. Now, it's a hair growth watch. It takes a lot for me to do this, but I am going to post photos of my progress (from the back--I do have limits). So here's the first one, taken last Saturday, at zero growth. When there are notable changes, the HW will be updated.