Friday, October 16, 2009

Pink Sunrise

Up before dawn again. A brief time alone with everyone in the house. The sky is beautiful this time of day. My mother used to try to wake me at the beach to see this and I never could get up to join her for a walk on the beach. I fall into that rough category of the population known as “not a morning person”. She used to be so disappointed and would go alone. I understand now what I missed. It is more beautiful than a picture can share. It’s not just the pink of sunrise; it’s the quiet and the cold smell in the air. Even here where I live now in Pennsylvania, away from the ocean, the quiet beauty of the ice on the ground and lining all the trees, the low lying fog, the pink stripes in the sky. It’s fall now. Fall has come early this year. I hear people say this winter will be long and rough.  Most of the leaves have changed to a bright color already and it’s been so cold early in the season. It’s so quiet this time of day. I can hear the clocks tick.

Understanding my symptoms of treatment and coming to terms with the side effects is something that only now I can understand. The constant insomnia has been mostly a curse, but also a unique gift of time. My body has become an enemy of the dream world, but the long hours awake at night have given me the quiet time to write. During the day, my fatigue clouds my mind. At times I find it difficult to hold a conversation. I’m frustrated with not feeling like myself. My boys remind me that they miss the “old me” and that they miss playing with my long hair. Still the soccer mom; still trying to look “put together” when I go out the door, still me…somewhere on the inside.

I had one last chemo treatment before I undergo surgery. I will stop for a few weeks so that my body can gain strength and enough immunity back to undergo surgery.  My body has grown very weak and my white blood cells and platelets have poor numbers.  During this time that the doctors hope I will show a rebound, I will receive shots that are to help bring my blood work numbers to an acceptable level.  I will not be able to have my surgery until I am strong enough and my immunity improves.  I am told that the shots will cause another set of side effects such as extreme bone pain and flu-like symptoms as my bone marrow goes into overdrive to produce the white blood cells my body is deprived of from chemotherapy. 

I'm glad to be getting a break from things for a couple of weeks. As much as I'm glad to not return to the hospital for this time, I will miss seeing the staff. They have all been very caring and good at making the experience bearable. I've remained strong, but it's taken a toll on my body.  I also plan to stay home as much as possible dodging the flu bullet. My immunity couldn't be weaker at the worst time of the year. I also have young children in school surrounded by the cold and flu season.  Others do not understand my vulnerability currently and it will be a challenge to avoid situations where I am exposed to others who are sick.  Neighbors surprise me at the door with concern and kind offerings as they excuse their coughing and say hello.

Chemotherapy, now that’s a word that is melodramatic. More like mini Chernobyl in your body! Yet it’s what is out there to eradicate the cancer cells from within a living body.  It doesn't know the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells.  It destroys the cells that are growing the quickest, which is the cancer, but also cells such as the hair, nails, taste buds and some skin. It has been a difficult road to undergo this treatment, but it seems to be shrinking the tumor and slowing its growth, which will make surgery easier.  It helps me feel like I’m doing the right thing. Those that are near me accept it and quietly watch me from week to week as they see what it is doing to me. The progress of my cancer was so aggressive and fast spreading that it was just too late for me to do anything else. It was on its way to killing me very soon if I didn’t stop it in it’s tracks with something desperate. The later the diagnosis, the grimmer the prognosis. All numbers and ink, I know. Statistics and survival rates are thrown at you in the beginning as you are told what treatments are available to treat your particular cancer.  And so for me with later stage cancer, the options for conventional and unconventional treatment dwindle.

I am also learning that my choices of saving my breast vs. reconstruction may not follow a conventional path.  My breasts were small and my frame is thin, but my tumor is very large and has had years to stretch my breast tissue out of proportion.  If I am to undergo a full mastectomy, I may not have the necessary tissue for a proper reconstruction.  I am being told all of my options and risks depending upon the outcome of this initial chemotherapy.  I will also need radiation which limits my choice of "healthy" tissue to use for reconstruction.  The affects of radiation will change the tissue and I cannot have reconstruction until after radiation is completed, as radiation would deform any reconstructed tissue.  In addition, any implants needed would be damaged if subjected to the radiation treatment.  The idea of being left with the option of wearing a prosthesis does not sound like something I will feel comfortable.  I am already looking into my closet and making a pile on my bed discarding all of the v-neck tops and "cute" dresses that I will never wear again in comfort.  I have traded my bras for shelf bra camisoles as bras have already become painful to wear.  I had been stuffing my unaffected side to match my "overgrown boob", but now it is a matter of comfort.  This is the season of sweaters and loose fitting clothing and so I am able to hide my deformity for now.  I know when summer comes, I will mourn the loss of being able to wear bathing suits and tank tops.  It may sound like a simple thing, but appearance and comfort will now become a battle less to do with vanity.  I have decisions to make.  Others who have survived breast cancer are telling me their stories and what they have undergone with reconstruction.  I am not ready to hear this part.  I am carrying my hidden dragon and it continues to ravage my body and mind.  I am tortured by the thoughts of being forever changed.  Peace comes in the simple things of looking upon the pink skies of pre-winter dawn.  I can only handle today.  Tomorrow is too far away.

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