I have been thinking about this topic for a couple months now. The "Breast Cancer Survivor" topic. In short, I don't think I'll ever consider myself a breast cancer survivor.
For one, the breast cancer didn't do anything to me. It was there, but it didn't make me feel sick, didn't hurt, didn't change my appearance, didn't make me sad or scared. There it sat, just being there, for an indeterminate amount of time, probably years. My surviving through those years didn't take any effort on my part.
Also, by popular culture definition, a survivor can "outplay, outwit, outlast". Thus, I feel like even when I finish all of this treatment, I just won't know if I've survived cancer's whole game. Yes, the odds will be in my favor, but if one of those cancer cells has survived (outlasted the mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy) and it causes problems in the future (5, 10, or 30 years from now), can I really say that I won here in 2012?
The breast cancer treatment, however, has been my challenge. It has scared me, brought me to the hospital, lain me out in
bed, made me nauseous for months, changed my ability to take care of the
girls, and has made me look and feel different.
So here's my take: I'm a Breast Cancer Treatment Survivor. Keeping in mind that some of these might be TMI, here is some of what I've survived since February 24.
- A mammogram/ultrasound ending with the doctor saying, "Sit down."
- Navigating the network of different doctors one must consult for breast cancer, including Ob/Gyn, radiologist, general surgeon, plastic surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist, each who have their own offices, schedulers, insurance files, and procedures.
- CT scan, bone scan, and numerous blood draws that will continue for the rest of my life.
- A major surgery (bilateral mastectomy), and then a minor one (port) a few weeks later.
- Adriamycin/cytoxan chemotherapy (4X) which caused miserable nausea and fatigue.
- Neulasta (6X), causing extreme bone pain.
- Colds every other week as my white blood cell counts dropped and then rose.
- Hair loss
- Taxol chemotherapy (4, going on 5X) which caused sharp pains and neuropathy.
- My first and second yeast infections. The first one was agonizing because I didn't know what is was and for over a week dismissed it as an uncomfortable side effect of chemo, letting it get worse and worse until I finally got the right treatment.
- Having to call a doctor for a refill on narcotic pain medication, which goes against everything I have ever believed about dealing with pain. "Tough it out, Shari," has changed to "Maybe Vicodin will help." (Don't worry, I didn't take any today and I'm okay.)
- Heartburn worse than anytime during pregnancy or even after 5¢ wing nights in college.
- Hair loss for a second time (Remember that little bit of hair I mentioned in my last post? It is just starting to lose its battle with the Taxol.)
- Weight gain due to steroids I take to prevent an allergic reaction to Taxol. I'd say I'm up about 8 pounds over the past month, mostly in my tummy, without changing my diet at all.
- Finding childcare for two preschoolers during everything. Believe it or not, this final item has been the hardest to survive of everything listed. We've had wonderful friends helping at every turn, but the actual leaving of the children because of breast cancer is a challenge every single time.
In order to add some positivity to this post, I do have to add some things that I have not had to survive, despite many warnings:
- Never had mouth sores.
- Appetite is still fine and don't have any specific food aversions.
- Nails didn't turn black or fall off.
- Still have a few of my eyebrows and all of my arm hair.
- No chemo-brain (as far as I can tell).
- Haven't had to be hospitalized (or even close) due to my compromised immune system.
- I can still do buttons.
Hopefully you are doing some serious knocking on wood with me, since there's still one infusion left.
After August 3, at my last day of chemo treatment, I will have to open some new doors (literally) in the cancer treatment survivor world. I will find out my schedule for surviving my silicon implant surgery, my radiation, and after that my hormone therapy and check-ups every few months. So it seems that for the rest of my life, I will be actively playing at Breast Cancer Treatment Survivor.