It’s Finally Here: My Very Last Chemo!

It’s Finally Here: My Very Last Chemo!

It’s here. It’s finally here. Tomorrow I will have my very last chemo infusion.

jim carrey celebrate gif

Six months ago, sitting in my hospital room, boobless and sore, I was staring down the barrel of a long, gruelling chemotherapy regimen and wondering how on earth I would get through it all. Still dazed by my sudden swerve into Cancerland, and the speed at which my life had unravelled, all I could do was nod numbly as my Oncologist spoke about my proposed treatment and how it was necessary to poison my body in order to purge it of Cancer. Everything I heard and read left me distressed and scared.

It’s a strange process, Cancer treatment. You have to get sicker in order to get better. The day of my Breast Cancer diagnosis I had been for a long morning run, I had even been to see an Asthma specialist at the Epworth and passed his lung capacity test with flying colours. I was, in my mind, a picture of perfect health! Yet, just hours later I was back in the very same building with a referral to see a Breast Surgeon.

Since then, it’s been a long and difficult road. Chemotherapy is toxic, and it has ravaged my body with countless adverse effects: extreme nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle and bone aches, insomnia, a constantly dry mouth, changed taste sensations, mouth ulcers, nose bleeds, hair loss, constipation, diarrhoea, nerve damage, tender fingers and toe nails, dry eyes, watery eyes, weight-loss, night sweats, and a very low immunity. Quite a list, isn’t it? In fact, managing the emotional lead up to each infusion, and the physical fall-out that follows has almost felt like a full-time job. It has hijacked my life, taken over my thoughts, stolen my freedom.

chemo sucks chemo sucks 2

So you’d think that I’d be ecstatic to be emerging out the other side, right?

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Well, yes and no. I kind of have mixed feelings.

From a physical viewpoint, I can’t wait to be rid of it! Each time I have gone in for chemo treatment, the smell of the place is so acrid it makes my stomach churn. I watch all the lovely oncology nurses gown up in their purple protective wear, pop on their goggles and gloves before handling the drug mixes and I wince at the fact that while they’re worried about a tiny spill of the stuff, the whole bag of cytotoxic splendour is being pumped through my poor body. The labels on each batch don’t make me feel that great either!

chemo sign

But as each infusion date has been gloriously crossed off my calendar, I count down the hours now, knowing the list of side effects above is mostly behind me. I have made it through the fog and am emerging out the other side, ready to reclaim my lost stamina and get this body of mine moving again. Hair has starting sprouting atop my head again, and although its downy soft, and pure white, it is a small sign that my body is on the mend. If you look hard at the picture below, you might just catch a glimpse of my new fuzz!

kate new hair 3

The flip side of chemo ending is purely an emotional one. Back in January I joked about planning a ‘remission soirée’ to celebrate finishing active treatment. I envisaged partying through to the wee hours with all my favourite people, rejoicing in the idea that I’d kicked cancer to the curb and could get on with my life.

I’ve since come to realise that finishing treatment can actually be a very anxious time for cancer patients. You see, even though chemotherapy is hideous to go through, the impact of its effect on your body, however debilitating, kind of feels good; as if the severity of my side effects is somehow a testament to the drugs’ efficacy. To be released from its guard is scary. Suddenly I am on my own again: Me versus Cancer.

It feels like I’m on the edge of a great precipice about to take a leap of faith, knowing full well there’s no safety net to catch me if I fall. Actually, I kind of feel like this guy, but way less prepared:

Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda walks the high wire from the U.S. side to the Canadian side over the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, June 15, 2012.   (Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda walks the high wire from the U.S. side to the Canadian side over the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, June 15, 2012. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Fortunately, I’m not completely on my own just yet. After tomorrow, I will continue to head in to the Hotel Epworth for tri-weekly infusions of my targeted therapies, Herceptin and Perjeta (aka the wonder drugs), in mid July I start 6 weeks of daily Radiotherapy, and soon enough I’ll be put on some sort of oral Hormone therapy too. So, for now, I am still in the soothing safety net of active treatment, but without the nasty side effects of chemo drugs. So I guess that is a GREAT BIG WIN, isn’t it?

HOORAY FOR MY LAST CHEMO DAY!

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In Search Of Zen: Living With Cancer-Induced Anxiety

In Search Of Zen: Living With Cancer-Induced Anxiety

Every one of us will feel stressed at times. Looming deadlines, financial pressures and the day-to-day demands of a busy modern life thrust various doses of stress upon us daily, but, built to withstand small amounts of pressure, we can generally make a few adjustments to compensate for the added strain and get on with it.

I have always been aware that chronic anxiety and depression are debilitating disorders affecting many, many people at various stages of life, yet until diagnosed with Breast Cancer late last year, I had never personally experienced the kind of deep-seated stress, anxiety or gut-wrenching fear that usually accompanies major trauma or a threat to one’s life. It leaves you gasping for air.

The shock of hearing I had cancer, having to quickly prepare for surgery and then line up for each chemotherapy treatment evoked feelings in me so intense I felt as though my brain had short-circuited somehow, that my responses to this new stress in my life were purely instinctive and I was powerless to control them. It has been the most mentally and physically exhausting experience of my life. At times I haven’t been able to eat, sleep or switch off the pain.

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Part 1: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Part 1: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

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Dear 37 year-old body,

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to blurt it out and hope you understand.

We’ve been through a lot over the years, you and I. We’ve spent an incredible amount of time in each other’s company and we know each other more intimately than anyone on this planet. You and I have forged secrets I’d never tell another soul, and at this point we should really be planning to grow old and grey together, but…well…lately I’ve had a change of heart.

I want a fresh start.

Let me try to explain.

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A Whole Lot Of Awesome

A Whole Lot Of Awesome

A few years ago, probably on the back of a particularly gluttonous festive season and far too much wine, some friends of mine and I started a little running group.

It was pretty laughable at first. (Sorry girls…perhaps I’m speaking for myself here!) We’d meet down at the local park at 7am on a Sunday morning (hello commitment!), lycra’d to the hilt, and pound the pavement huffing and puffing our guts out.

I can’t speak for my friends, but for me, wearing Lycra to actually exercise was quite a new phenomenon! I had been pretty good at wearing it in the guise of exercising (which really just meant I’d found a good way to validate not having a shower before school drop-off). Yep, until running group started, my collection of lycra had only ever served as a lazy alternative to clothes, that had the added effect of making me appear like I was prioritising fitness! Win-win!

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Broken Wheels

Broken Wheels

Ever so gradually, as each week passes, I have felt the wheels falling off my resolve a little.

This past week has been particularly tough. After finishing my final dose of AC chemotherapy three weeks ago and starting to feel better, I hit a snag last Wednesday with the sudden onset of vomiting, nausea and fatigue. It completely caught me off-guard and left me with a mouth full of ulcers over Easter. How mean is that, taking away my chance of unfettered chocolate indulgence? Instead I spent the long weekend gargling salt water, unable to eat and feeling really flat.

It takes a lot of energy to stay upbeat and positive in the face of cancer. Even on the days when the sun is shining, my diagnosis hovers like an ever-present black shadow. I can push to look beyond the shade, but the sun on my face is never as bright.

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Cancer: The Elephant In My Every Room

Cancer: The Elephant In My Every Room

When something big is on our mind, it’s almost all we can see.

I’m speaking about those times in our lives where ‘big things’ suddenly announce themselves loudly, take up residence in our daily life and refuse to budge. The kind of ‘big things’ that alter the very essence of every day, becoming a sort of new lens through which we see the world.

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Kids Say The Darnedest Things

Kids Say The Darnedest Things

A couple of years ago, I had an encounter in the women’s change room of our local pool that was particularly embarrassing. By embarrassing, I mean a top-of-the-line face-palm cringe fest where I seriously hoped the ground beneath my feet would instantaneously open up and suck me into a vortex.

This particular disaster unfolded while I was busy trying to clothe two of my three children after a swim. It involved a big, busty naked lady and my then four year-old son.

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