Still, I confess that I believe nothing about cancer treatment is "normal." The moment you hear that word come out of the mouth of a doctor "normal" goes right out the window. Maybe forever. But despite the lunacy of the treatment and the discomfort of the side effects, it all eventually comes to an end. The chemo and radiation - and by extension their side effects - are temporary. You get it, then you're done. They tell you that you'll start getting back to normal within a few weeks or months, depending on a lot of other factors. I can't really speak to that with authority yet because I have not gotten back to "normal." I'm getting there, though. There might be a mitigating factor keeping me from recovering as quickly as I should, but more on that later. First let's talk about what is changing.
The hair is the most obvious thing, I suppose. It's just growing like crazy. It's actually gotten long enough now that I have to take a comb to it after a shower or risk looking like a character from a Japanese Anime cartoon.
|Not sure if he's sharing my opinion of his hairstyle here or not, |
but I know I give it a "thumb's down" when it's on my head.
Eventually the hair will get long enough to actually do something with it and I'm looking forward to that. For now I'm just glad that it's finally starting to fill in so that I don't look so much like a balding man. It's still a little thin in front, but it's filling in. I've got eyelashes again. At least more than I had for a while there. And my eyebrows are coming back, too. Unfortunately, along with the hair on my head, the hair in my armpits and on my legs is returning as well. Alas, shaving will soon be a part of my routine once more. It's a real shame that they can't come up with some way to engineer the chemo to kill of armpit and leg hair for good. Sigh.
So, the hair coming back is a good thing. I really, really miss having hair on my head. I keep looking at all my head bands, scrunchies, and barrettes with longing. I could wear the headbands, I guess, but what would be the point? They'd just make what little hair I have stick out like crazy. Believe me, I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in a glass door the other day with my sunglasses pushed up onto my head. It was NOT pretty. Along with the return of my hair, though, come some less than welcome parts of my old "normal."
I have been sick with sinus issues for two weeks now. It was very unpleasant for a while there. It's mostly gone now, aside from a nagging cough as I struggle to get rid of the last of the congestion that set up in my chest. I've got a sinking feeling, though, that this was just the beginning. I think my allergies are going to be a bear this year. If the stuffy nose and sneezing are already starting then it doesn't bode well for the rest of the growing season. None of this is cancer related, however. I mention being sick because I have felt terrible for several days. And just when I started feeling better a new problem cropped up. I woke up with a headache one day and it didn't leave for another three. I have most definitely not missed the migraines. They've been gloriously absent through my cancer treatment thanks to the impact the chemo had on my hormones. Now that they're getting back to "normal," though, the headaches triggered by them are returning as well. This was the first migraine I've had in months. Not looking forward to that routine again.
On a related note, I haven't had a menstrual cycle in months either. I expect them to be starting up again soon as well. I'm dreading that more than the return of the migraines. Without going into a lot of gory detail, my periods were nightmarish when I was young. I've been on birth control pills continuously for more than two decades. They helped regulate my cycles. (They also helped mitigate the migraines.) But I can't take birth control any longer so I'm concerned that the nightmare periods I experienced in my teens might return. All I can do is ask for prayer that this won't happen. Seriously, I really don't want to go through that kind of pain again. Sigh, again.
Now to the one side effect that should be easing but hasn't so far. Fatigue comes with both chemo and radiation. In truth, it's just part and parcel of the whole cancer experience. The treatment causes it, but the constant running back and forth for all the tests, doctor's appointments, and treatments adds to the problem. Once treatment ends, your body and mind can begin healing from all the abuse and the fatigue starts lifting. As a point of fact, I have read many accounts from other survivors that suggest it takes months or even a year or more to get back to "normal." Still, I expected to notice some improvement. I haven't. If anything, Mark and I have noticed that I seem to be more tired. I have chalked it up to lingering effects of the treatment. Today I got an indication that I might be wrong about that.
I mentioned before that I have to get regular tests to monitor the function of my heart. I got the first one before I got my first chemo. It was to give them a baseline to compare future tests to and to ensure that my heart was strong enough to endure the chemo. I received Adriamycin, which is known to be potentially damaging to the heart. This damage can be temporary or permanent and can appear with no warning at all either during treatment or at some point in the future. After completing the Adriamycin, I began getting Herceptin. This is not chemo, but is a medical therapy which is used to treat my specific kind of cancer. It targets a particular protein that is present in my cancer and makes it impossible for cells with that protein to reproduce. Unfortunately, Herceptin can also cause heart damage. I began the Herceptin in November and am supposed to receive it for a full year. They check my heart function regularly to make sure the Herceptin is not impacting it.
My baseline MUGA revealed my heart function to be 61%. Anything above 50% is considered normal. (There's that word again. LOL) In November, just before I began receiving Herceptin, it was 59%. In March it had dropped to 55% and my doctor mentioned that he was concerned enough to schedule my next MUGA early. I had it this past Tuesday and he gave me the results today. My heart function has dropped to 38%. This is, needless to say, a significant drop in my heart's pumping ability. It may very well explain why I am still feeling so tired all the time. So I did not get any Herceptin today. I will not be getting any until and unless my heart function rebounds. I will be getting another MUGA in approximately six weeks. They will set it up and call me with the date. Until then I just keep going. I have no activity restrictions, which is very good. Mark was worried about it and specifically asked the doctor that question. At this point there is no reason to flip out. Well, there's never a reason to flip out, but you get what I mean, I hope. If it is merely due to the Herceptin then it should bounce back fairly quickly. If it rebounds dramatically, we will try starting up the Herceptin again and see what happens. If it doesn't, then that's something we'll deal with once we get there.
In other news, I got all the results from my genetic testing and I am negative for either of the BRAC genes as well as any other genetic anomaly that might be to blame for my cancer. This is good news. At least I'm not carrying around a ticking time bomb just waiting to mutate some more cells. I might still have some stray cancer cells floating around somewhere that might someday take root and start growing again, but I'm not genetically predisposed to breast cancer at least. That's cause for celebration. Sadly, I was so sick around my birthday and over the past couple of weeks (and Mark was sick the week before that) that we still have not gotten around to having a celebratory dinner. I'm not bothered by it, though. I'm just grateful beyond words that I didn't have to make this journey alone. Not only do I have God to see me through it, He saw fit to give me a wonderful husband to help as well. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Lord!
So, things are getting back to normal but normal isn't what it used to be. I'm not sure it will ever be completely the same again. But that's okay. Change is a fact of life and we all have to learn to live with it whether we like it or not. Generally speaking, I don't feel bad. My cold or whatever it was is mostly gone. I can finally sleep through the night again, which is something I couldn't manage for several days there due to the congestion in my sinuses and my chest. I spent more than one night sitting up in a recliner. It was not a fun time. But God got me through it with relative speed. I had medicine to take and it didn't turn into anything that I needed a doctor for. I see all this as a blessing. As my favorite motto says, it could always have been worse.
On another unrelated note, I need to thank God for one more big blessing. I had to be in Madison at 7AM Tuesday morning for that MUGA scan. That means we left home a bit before 6:30. It was still twilight out there and raining with the roads very wet and countless spots with heavy ponding on the roadway. We were moving along at a reasonable speed when we suddenly realized the road in front of us was blocked by a massive mudslide. This was the second one in a week along the same stretch of road. Mark couldn't swerve around it because there was an oncoming car. By the grace of God he got the car stopped before we plowed into the tangle of mud and trees. I tried to call 911, but was getting so much static on the line that I hung up. Then I tried to call the Jefferson County Sheriff's office but got a busy signal. I was waiting for a few moments to try to call them again when we passed a sheriff's car heading in the direction of the slide. His lights were off, so I don't know if he was responding to a call about it or if he just happened to be heading that way, but as Mark said, he'd find it either way. By the time we reached the hospital a few minutes later they were already reporting it on the radio. They had the road closed for more than 24 hours while they cleaned it all up. We passed it today and it's just amazing how much of the hill came down on the road.
As I said, it could always be worse. Thank God for His mercy and grace and protection. Whatever comes of my heart, I know I can rely on Him to take me through it. That's all I need to know.