So, I now have a few more sessions of chemo under my belt and I’m doing well. Really well, all things considered. I was able to successfully endure the IP chemo with no problems, which was a huge relief. And, best of all, my CA-125 cancer marker has now decreased 83% from its highest point immediately post-surgery. 83% in less than 90 days. We’re so grateful and relieved. The treatment is working….!

I finally broke down this week and got a second port, for administration of the IV chemo and pre-meds. As much as I didn’t want another surgery and another scar, it was becoming too stressful for me – as well as my nursing team – to deal with vein issues every single time I came in for treatment. Plus the trackmarks on my arms were starting to look a bit sketchy. The port will also save me a significant amount of time on chemo days (the difference between pushing liquid through a thread vs. a straw), and time for me is precious. So I did it. I took the new port for its inaugural test drive today, and have to say it made the process so much easier. I have no regrets.

One thing I appreciate about the chemo – besides the fact that it is hopefully saving my life – is that I essentially get to catch up on my sleep on chemo days. You see, on the two of every three days that I get the drug Taxol injected into me, they also give me intravenous Benadryl to prevent any allergic reactions. And that stuff knocks me right out. It’s like getting a roofie (or what I imagine that would be like…). It hits pretty quickly and then I start getting foggy. Next thing I know, chemo is over.

I have some wonderful friends who have offered to sit with me, bring lunch to me, play games with me, and keep me company during chemo. I’m not very good company on the Benadryl days, let me tell you. Today a very sweet friend came to eat lunch and hang out with me. As we ate our food, we talked in detail about my friend’s scheduled trip out of town to see Jack White perform over the weekend. Then, the Benadryl hit. Next thing I know, I heard myself slur, “so what are you doing this weekend”? My friend slowly and patiently responded, “Going out of town. To see Jack White”. Oh, yeah.

But it’s all good. As a new mom, sleep is such a luxury. I would even say delicious if I liked that word used in that context (which I don’t). And how nice to wake up and know that, while I was sleeping, my system was infused with even more cancer-fighting drugs. One step closer to cancer-free! I’m ready to get my CA-125 count into single digits. That’s the goal. And I’m a hell of a lot closer than I was a couple of months ago.

I have an amazing friend named Molly who also happens to be a strong female cancer survivor herself. Molly talks about the “upside of cancer”, the unexpected benefits that come from this sort of trial by fire. I’ve already seen the upside. The deep appreciation for life and family and friends. Being overwhelmed with gratitude for all that you have, and all you have been fortunate enough to experience. Recognizing how much you have to live for….wanting to Live with a capital L. Having such a new appreciation, for everything….good, bad and ugly.

Another upside has been all of the amazing people I’ve already met in this process. Being embraced by a huge, powerful and loving community, the strength and magnitude of which I never really knew existed. No matter what happens, cancer will always be part of who I am. And I’m okay with that…more than okay.

As I’ve written, I initially started this blog as a means to hole up with my fear and grief and hide from most of the outside world. And to avoid sending those annoying mass emails and having to tell the same story over and over (and deal firsthand with the reactions). Hiding behind the keyboard just felt safer in the beginning, which is what I needed. And it was just what I needed.

I don’t feel like hiding anymore. I love taking off my hat in public and displaying my bald head as a badge of honor. Any time I hear of someone going through something similar being inspired by me talking about my story, I am so touched and honored. I don’t know that there’s anyone whose world hasn’t been affected by this disease. And we’re all a family of sorts. I’m loving this new family…and the deeper level of intimacy that comes with being a member. There’s no room for bullshit in this family, and that’s incredibly refreshing.

I was recently contacted about this blog by AOL. They were interested in making it a weekly column for The Stir on their Cafe Mom platform. First, I was stunned that anyone would be all that interested in what one woman from Nashville, Tennessee had to say. After all, I’m just one woman going through cancer treatment; there are millions of us out there. But then I thought that if I can help anyone else out there better deal with their own battle with this disease through hearing my story, I’m in. So I’m in.

I’ve heard from so many people who have said that they or a family member are going through a similar situation but that they’re “not telling anyone.” I very much respect their rights to privacy. For me, though, I feel that talking openly about this disease makes me stronger and it weaker. So that’s what I’m going to keep doing.

Next week, the column will launch on thestir.cafemom/columns, and I’ll put a link to it here if you’d like to follow it. I’ve always loved writing – it’s one of the things I love best about my job – and now, if all goes well, I’ll get to write for a larger audience. Scary and exciting….I guess this is also part of the upside of cancer.

I’m fortunate that I have had so many good days during treatment; and that my regimen is tough, but also essentially affords me ten days off every month to recharge and recover. This allowed me the opportunity to travel to Arizona last week with my husband and baby (yes, the Moo has now earned her wings) to visit my wonderful in-laws and my amazing aunt (whose ass you’ve all seen if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning). I think the trip was good for all of our souls, theirs, Mark’s and Maggie’s. I know it was good for mine.

Thanks, again, for the continued support and well wishes. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that all of the positive energy I’m receiving every day is a big part of what is carrying me through.

My doctors told my family that the survival rate for those with my type and stage of cancer is 50%. But that certainly didn’t factor in my husband, new baby, family, friends and all of you.

Love and gratitude,
Joanna

So this was my week to get back on the chemo train, full throttle. Two days of back-to-back chemotherapy, Day One through an IV, and Day Two through the IP port directly into my abdomen. The hope was that this time my body would have healed enough from the surgeries to withstand and retain the massive volumes of fluid being pumped into it. I was more than a bit apprehensive, I’ll admit. Because the thought of not being able to receive the form of treatment that would give me the best chance of beating the cancer did not sit well with me. I’ve been sold on this treatment plan as being the one with the best odds for my survival, you see. And I do not want to have to accept a less aggressive treatment as a Plan B.

Day One of this cycle started off with my weekly labwork. As part of the extensive monitoring of this and that, my CA-125 protein levels are checked every third week. This is the most anticipated test of all, as the CA-125 serves as a marker of sorts, showing how or if the cancer is responding to the treatment. My levels were checked immediately after diagnosis in early December so that a baseline could be established. They were checked again after surgery, and we were all disappointed and a bit surprised to learn that my levels had actually gone up after the surgery. I told my oncologist I could not understand how or why the levels would increase after the removal of so much cancer from my body. She explained that often the trauma of surgery causes the levels to spike, and that we would just need to wait and see. So that’s what we’ve been doing.

The next time my levels were checked, they had gone down slightly, but were still not even to the point where they were pre-surgery. My oncologist was encouraged nonetheless, that the numbers were moving in the right direction…down.

I went into the lab this week hoping that the downward trend was continuing, especially since my original treatment plan had been somewhat interrupted. I’d been warned that sometimes one’s CA-125 levels will actually rise during treatment. This would be an indicator that the regimen was not being effective, and that the cancer was continuing to grow and/or spread…a frightening thought.

Given the stakes, we were all thrilled and relieved to learn this week that my CA-125 levels had decreased by 70% from three weeks earlier…..70%! A huge drop by any standards. The doc encouraged us not to overreact to any news – good or bad – during this process. However, as conservative as she is, she was clearly pleased. This means that the treatment is working. It’s working…! And this is what I have to keep in mind when I get overwhelmed by just how far I have left to go on this ride. Yes, I’ve only completed four of what will now be 21 sessions of chemo….but it’s working. As I write this I’m feeling like shit, but that shitty feeling means it’s working. And I’ll take that gladly…bring it on. As Robert Frost said, “the best way out is always through”, and I’m right in the middle of it.

And more good news – although there was a slight complication during the administering of the IP chemo which caused them to have to stop halfway through, I was able to absorb all that I received. This tends to indicate that I have healed sufficiently, and that I’ll be able to continue the IP regimen as planned. Another big relief.

I have to say, the week ended on a higher note than it began. You may recall that early in this process I requested stories of triumph and survival, but asked that well-meaning souls kindly save the stories of their friend or relative who died of the exact same thing I had. I just wasn’t in a place where I felt I could hear about such things. What I now realize is that I can’t hide from those stories. I’m now a member of that club I never wanted to join, and the fact is that not all of us are going to make it.

A week ago today, a new friend died as a result of the cancer she had been fighting for a little more than 18 months. And she was a strong, vibrant woman with a great attitude and a huge support network….a fellow ass-kicker. Although I didn’t know her well, we were part of a sisterhood, and her death shook and saddened me. As I watched the news spread across the social media sites, I saw more than one comment asking if the woman who died was “that lady who just had the baby”, and realized they were talking about me. A strange feeling, to say the least.

This was also the third cancer-related death of someone I knew in as many weeks. In taking this in, I realized that I could not avoid the bad news about this disease, nor should I try. To do so would be a disservice to those who fought so hard, and those who loved them. My life has already been touched and enriched by so many new friends who are battling this illness alongside me or with a loved one. I would not want to miss the gift of any of these people and experiences because I chose to isolate and hide.

As I reflected on these latest developments, I began thinking once again of the chain of events that led to where I find myself today. After I reached a certain age, I gave up on the notion of having children. Not because I wasn’t physically able – I was, as far as I knew – but because the circumstances had never been quite right for me to do so. And I liked my life just fine….the freedom of being able to essentially do what I wanted and go where I wanted, without the responsibility of children. It wasn’t something I felt I needed in order to feel fulfilled.

Then, in early 2009, about six months into a relationship with the man who would eventually become my husband, I became pregnant. While on birth control pills. Needless to say, this was quite a shock, and not necessarily a welcomed one. This was a brand new relationship and it was going really well. I didn’t want anything to fuck it up. I had been making a concerted effort to take things more slowly in this relationship than in past relationships, to not jump into anything impulsively. What was this going to do to us? We hadn’t even told each other how we felt about each other at this point….we lived in separate homes and led independent lives. If this relationship was going to be what I hoped it could be, I didn’t want it to be because a baby was driving it. I wanted it to happen organically.

Ultimately, after much thought, discussion and some outside counsel, Mark and I came to the conclusion that the list of pros surrounding the introduction of a baby into our lives far outweighed the cons. And we also realized that for us to get pregnant, at our age, while on birth control, was likely no random occurrence. The stars had to be aligned for all of those things to happen. Far be it for us to interfere with the universe’s plan for us. So, we began making plans of our own, for how this baby would fit into our lives. We let walls come down and became more vulnerable with one another, sharing even more of our thoughts and fears, as well as our true feelings about each other. It brought us closer together. It was a beautiful thing.

About nine weeks into the pregnancy, we took a trip to see some friends in Asheville, North Carolina, and then took a little jaunt over to Bryson City to hole up in a cabin for a few days. While we were there, Mark wrote a song for our unborn child. We started talking about moving in together, and which room would become the nursery. And in the middle of the night one night, Mark woke up and told me that if our baby was a girl, her name would be Grace. I think he was dreaming when he said it…he has no recollection of it. Or maybe I was the one dreaming.

A few hours later, I started cramping and bleeding and began the process of what ultimately resulted in a miscarriage. I was miles from any hospital, and hours from home. The days and weeks that followed were difficult and confusing for both of us. We could not understand why this had happened….why this baby would be brought into our lives, only to leave us right when we were getting excited about the prospect of his or her arrival. Of course, we later came to the conclusion that this event happened to cause each of us to independently realize, before it was too late, that we actually did want to have a baby. With each other. That we wanted to build a life together, and that that life might just include a son or a daughter, if the universe saw fit.

We waited awhile – nearly two more years – before deciding to try. We gave ourselves time to grieve the loss of our child and process what had happened. We also allowed our relationship to further solidify, and worked to build a firm foundation together. We knew we had something special. And part of us didn’t want to do anything to disrupt it. We had built quite a nice little life for ourselves by this point. We were a little apprehensive about changing the dynamic. Plus, what kind of parents would we be?

Then, in October 2010, Mark took a life-changing Arctic photo safari to the 60th parallel near Manitoba, Canada. He traveled with a long-time friend and mentor, and his friend’s wife and two children. They – along with a handful of other guests – stayed in a lodge on the shores of the Hudson Bay, near the Seal River estuary, and spent about 10 days stomping around the tundra, photographing polar bears.

When he came back, Mark had been somewhat transformed. Not just by the beauty of the tundra and having communed so closely with these amazing creatures, but also by having spent time amongst such a close-knit family with an infectious vibe and so much love for each other. He witnessed up close and personal the unconditional love that comes with parenthood, and realized he was ready to experience it firsthand. As we talked, I realized that I was too. And so, the night he returned home, we decided to remove all barriers and make ourselves open to the possibility of having a baby together. Right about six months later, we were pregnant.

And you know the rest of the story. If it hadn’t been for the pregnancy, and the emergency C-section that brought into the world our little girl – the girl we named Magnolia Grace after the little soul we left in North Carolina – the cancer I am now fighting likely would not have been discovered until it was much further along.

I have to continually remind myself that everything that is happening is part of a bigger plan, and that I am not in control of the outcome. I just have to do my part, and that is to make informed decisions about my care, keep up my strength as best I can, and be present for my husband and daughter and family and friends. As my husband has said, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and I am in it for the long haul.

Thank you for being with me on this journey.

Love and gratitude,

Jo

I have cancer.

I have cancer.

Believe it or not, I forget about it sometimes. A surprising amount of the time, actually.

When I was pregnant, the thought “I am pregnant” was like an underlying 60 cycle hum…with me virtually every waking moment. I went to sleep thinking it (when I could sleep), and woke up thinking it. I don’t think I ever once forgot I was pregnant.

In the two months since my diagnosis, however, there have been many times it has slipped my mind that I have cancer. Now, with the bald head, a walk by a mirror or reflective window is a startling reminder that I am living with this disease. (Seeing my reflection in someone else’s shocked reaction is also a sobering reminder.) I’ve lost track of how many times in the past couple of weeks I’ve caught my reflection in a mirror and been a bit taken aback by my alien appearance. Yet, despite the angst leading up to the loss of my hair, that part really doesn’t bother me. The part that gives me pause is that it’s a reminder that I have cancer.

Oh yeah….that.

Fortunately, my husband doesn’t seem to be fazed by the new look. In fact, he may even kind of dig it. Probably because he’s a nerd at heart and I now look like something from an episode of Star Trek.

But, yes, the bald head is definitely a reminder of the illness. That and, of course, the times when I do not feel good as a result of the chemo. And the track marks on my forearms from blown veins and failed IV attempts. And the scars from surgery. Okay…there are plenty of other reminders of the disease; but often, when I’m feeling good and just living life, I forget. After all, it’s the treatment that is making me feel bad and look different right now, not the disease. And the effects of the treatment are lessened with each day following an infusion. Until the next time, of course.

Last night, my husband and I had our second date night since the birth of our daughter. We went to dinner at our favorite restaurant, and then went to see a performance by one of our favorite artists, Ani Difranco. (Side note – Had I been sporting a shaved head the first time I saw Ani perform live in 1997, I would not have been the only chick doing so. This time, I’m pretty sure I was.) We had a wonderful night together, full of joy and laughter and closeness.

Toward the end of the night, I said something about appreciating times like these even more now…that nights out were more special somehow, and I felt more present with him because of it. He agreed, and made a comment about the cancer making us better appreciate things. I was surprised, as I had been thinking about the fact that we are now parents and have to arrange child care before going out….that what used to be just a regular night of the week now required quite a bit more planning and organization. I had completely forgotten I had cancer.

It’s easy to forget about the cancer sometimes because things are so damn good in so many other areas of my life. I am grateful every single day for my husband and daughter and our life together. As I overheard my husband tell someone on the phone this week, “if it weren’t for this temporary black cloud hanging over our heads, we’d be shittin’ smiles every day.”

Earlier this week when I went to the cancer center for my weekly blood work, the regular valet who opened my car door asked how I was doing and then said, “Well, you look good…still.” There was an implication in his pause before the word “still” that indicated this might not always be the case. To my (likely overly-sensitive) ears, he might as well have said, “Well, you don’t look bad… yet.

And I have started noticing – now that I’m out of the daze I was in the first few times I visited the chemo ward – that some patients definitely look sicker than others…that some are clearly further along in their treatment and it has taken its toll. I know that it will likely get worse before it gets better. I just can’t think about it too much….this treatment is a constant exercise in staying in the present and not “what-iffing”. The what-iffing could send me to a very dark place, as I’ve found on the few occasions when I’ve allowed myself to mentally meander down that path. Keeping my bald head in the same place as my feet may be one of my biggest challenges during this process.

In the meantime, I’ve begun looking at this cancer as another big hurdle in the internal clearing out process I began five years ago…just another toxin to cleanse or more baggage to lose. And chemotherapy is the ultimate cleanse. Some may disagree, believing that this course of treatment is radical and even unnecessary, but I’m not taking any chances. I intend to do everything I can possibly do to beat this the first go-round, once and for all.

This disease has also forced me to look at what I put into my body and how I take care of myself. There are hundreds of schools of thought on ways to attack cancer, and I’ve been bombarded with all kinds of contradictory advice. However, the one thing on which everyone seems to agree across the board…from the American Cancer Society to the most fringe-y of new age healers…is that the meaty, sugary, starchy Standard American Diet (SAD) isn’t good for anyone; and that a largely organic, largely raw, plant-based diet is the healthiest possible way to eat. Apparently, it’s hard for cancer (or diabetes or any other disease for that matter) to thrive in the body of someone who takes this sort of thing seriously. So I’m taking it seriously…a step at a time, because I want it to stick. We’re talking about a permanent lifestyle change here, not a quick fix.

So that’s where I am today. Trying to make healthy changes and choices while gearing up for my next round of treatment, which will include three sessions of chemotherapy on February 16, February 17 and February 23, respectively. My biggest concern – and that of my oncologist – is the re-introduction of IP chemo directly into my abdomen starting on the 17th. The last time this was attempted my body could not handle it, so my oncologist recommended a break in the IP chemo to allow me to better heal and recover from the surgery I underwent right before chemo started. The hope is that enough time will have passed by then that I’ll be able to withstand the IP chemo, as this is my best chance for beating the type of cancer remaining inside me. I will be on pins and needles on the 17th, hoping it will “take”. For anyone wanting to direct vibes of strength or prayers my way….I’ll need an extra batch that day and in the hours and days to follow.

So, yes, the reality is that I currently have cancer. And as each day goes by – until it’s no longer true – it will become as much a part of my identity as being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, paralegal or any other label. Eventually, when I dream, it’ll be the bald version of me I see in my dreams. And soon I’ll no longer be surprised when I look in the mirror. For now, though, I’m just going to continue to try to live in the present and enjoy every single moment. Because these are amazing times here in the Montgomery household. And I wouldn’t trade it, any of it, for anything.

Love and gratitude,
Joanna

 

Alternate title: Getting naked.

Warning: This is going to be a pretty girly post, for any of you guys who might be following along.

Okay, so I wrote in my last post that my scalp had been increasingly sore and tender, which was an indicator that my hair follicles were about to “release”. They said that this (the hair releasing) typically happened on the 14th day after the first chemo treatment. Well, by Day 16, I still had a full head of hair and hadn’t lost any. I was starting to wonder if maybe I would be the exception …maybe I wouldn’t lose my hair. (See…there I go again with those unrealistic expectations….). But on Sunday morning, Day 17, as I was washing my hair in the shower, my hair started coming out by the handful.

It was on.

In anticipating this, I thought that it would likely be traumatic. A woman losing her hair? It’s such a part of who we are. Even the term “bad hair day” is a commonly understood part of the vernacular of our culture. We all know what it means. It means that if you think your hair looks shitty, you’re likely to feel shitty and unattractive the rest of the day.

But when it happened, the hair fallout… it really wasn’t traumatic. I had known that I would likely lose my hair. My oncologist had told me that with the cocktail of chemo I was being given, there was no chance that I wouldn’t lose my hair. So I knew it was going to happen; and my scalp had been warning me all week via Morse code that the exodus was eminent.

When I looked at the palm full of hair and shampoo bubbles that Sunday morning, I thought, “okay…here we go”. And that was about it. After nearly six weeks of anticipation, I was ready to get the show on the road. My husband and I had already decided that at the first sign of hair loss, we would take control and, as my husband said, “shave the fucker”. So that’s what we did, later that night when our baby was asleep and the house was quiet.

I have to say that it was a very intimate experience, unlike anything else I can describe.

I asked Mark where we should do it, and he said wherever I would be most comfortable. He asked me what music I’d like playing (we have music playing in our house around the clock), and I immediately said George Winston. George Winston is part of the soundtrack of our life as a family. We sleep to a mix of songs that has George in heavy rotation (along with our great pal Joe Ebel and some others). Our animals immediately know it’s bedtime (or naptime) when George comes through the sound system. And now our daughter also sleeps to George Winston…it was her lullaby in utero, and she has listened to it every night of her life in the outside world, including the nights spent in the hospital.

So we cued up George, set up a dining room chair in the bathroom, and I sat down. We didn’t talk. Mark just began shaving my head with electric clippers, set at the lowest guard, which was about an eighth of an inch. He didn’t hesitate (like I would have), he just got right to it (which is very much how he approaches any task). I couldn’t see myself in the mirror, because the chair was too low. And this was a good thing. I just closed my eyes and let myself feel the hair falling on my neck, chest and lap. It was almost soothing, and extraordinarily intimate. I felt like my last veil or shield was being removed. And I was okay with that. I felt safe.

When Mark finished, he asked if I was ready to look at it. I told him I thought that I wanted to be alone when I looked at myself for the first time. He respectfully stepped out of the room and slid close the door.

I waited a few seconds, took a deep breath, and stood to view myself in the mirror. I once again looked myself in the eyes, and then took in my new appearance. I teared up a bit, but didn’t cry. I just looked, turning my head this way and that. After a minute or two, I got in the shower to wash off all of the loose hair.

When Mark asked me afterward what I thought, I told him that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but that it did look a bit militant with my 1/8th of an inch buzz cut. Plus, it felt a bit like a cop out to have left any hair at all. If it was all going to come out, why not take it all off now. I didn’t want to leave any hair for the chemo to take. I didn’t want to find any hairs on my pillow (no matter how short) or clogging our shower drain. So we decided to take off the rest in the morning. And we did, with shaving cream and a straight razor and no fanfare. I was ready for it.

I had three primary fears about having no hair.

1. That I would have a jacked up head shape with weird lumps or dents.

You’ve all seen them. Some people have good head shapes for baldness. Others don’t, bless them. Fortunately, my head shape wasn’t too bad. I could live with it. One fear down.

2. That my husband would no longer find me desirable.

When we first met, he was a new client coming in to the law firm where I worked (and still work). I was the paralegal assigned to his case. I later saw that when he had entered my contact information into his computer, he had identified me as “Joanna Stanfield, hot haired paralegal”. (In fact, it still says that in his Contacts.) Back then, I had my hair cut into a modified mohawk/fauxhawk….a look that definitely stood out, especially in a corporate law firm environment. So I knew that he had been attracted to my hair, and that my hairstyle was part of how I expressed myself historically, as do most of us.

Well, after the head shave, my husband made it clear that he still found me attractive. I think he just likes edgy looking women, and with the bald head, I think I still look a bit edgy. At any rate, I don’t think he’s just blowing smoke…he’s not really the type to do that anyway. I don’t think he’s turned off by the baldness. Another fear down.

3. That I’ll look like a sick person…that I won’t be able to hide that I have cancer.

This one isn’t as cut and dried. Something happened with the head shave. I may look sick to some with my shaved head. Others may just think I shaved my head by choice. The point is that, for some reason, I no longer care. Granted, I’ve only been rocking the dome for less than 48 hours now, but I’ve been out in public with the head more than once and didn’t feel nearly as self conscious as I thought I would. Rather, I felt somewhat defiant. As in, “if you don’t like my bald head…fuck you.” That kind of defiant. And also actually a little bit proud, like a fighter who is winning. Because, after all, if the chemo is killing my hair follicles, it’s killing other things as well. In other words…it’s working.

When I texted my brother that my hair was coming out, he responded, “Good. You don’t want any weak-ass chemo.” And that’s the truth. I don’t.

So, third fear, down. At least so far. I know there will be times that I feel self-conscious about the bald head and worry about standing out in a crowd. But I hope I’ll be able to hold my head high, knowing I’m doing everything I can to beat this disease.

To anyone going through chemotherapy, on the topic of hair loss, I would recommend taking control and shaving the head….not waiting for the hair to fall out. It was an empowering experience to lose the hair on my terms, not the cancer’s terms. To not see hair on my pillow. To not see thinning places on my head or bald patches. To shave the fucker.

And the other empowering thing I did? Documented the process. My husband took photos along the way, and we also scheduled a photo shoot with our friend and photographer, Brooke Kelly…the same talented woman who photographed us during the pregnancy, and took the newborn shots of baby Magnolia. Brooke made the experience not only safe, but fun. We laughed a lot, just as we always do. The vibe was not one of sadness, but one of victory and empowerment. It felt great. Again, it was about taking control where I could. And this was one thing that I could do on my terms.

And, finally, the coolest thing happened during the photo shoot….another one of those unexplainable cosmic things that lets me know this is all part of a bigger plan set out by the universe.

During a break in the shoot, there was a knock at the studio door. Brooke answered, and accepted a box being delivered by the postal carrier. The box was addressed to “The Montgomery 3, c/o Brooke Kelly”. This was strange, as no one knew we were going to be at the studio that day….we didn’t know it ourselves until the afternoon before.

We opened the box to find a beautiful note, written by a woman named Darla who had learned of us through the blog. This was a woman neither Mark nor I nor Brooke had met. She said that she had received an item recently, imprinted with the number 3. She asked the person who had given it to her what the number meant, why the person had chosen it for her, and the person replied that she didn’t know…she just wanted her to have it. And then this woman read about our story and realized that the item was meant for our family. So, she boxed it up and mailed it to the photographer, hoping it would get to us. And it just happened to arrive while we were there, all three of us.

It was a goosebump kind of moment. And made the day, and the experience, all the more special, for all of us.

So, the transformation continues. And it’s not about going from being a girl with hair to a girl without hair. It’s way more about going from being a girl who cared a great deal about what others – total strangers – thought about her to being a girl who can walk around with a shiny bald head without caring if others talk about her, point to her or laugh at her. And about being a woman who feels more secure about the love of her husband, even though she looks very different from the woman he met.

For those of you who really know me, this is big. Really big. What a gift.

Love and gratitude,
The Montgomery 3

 

So, as part of my treatment, I have to go the lab at the cancer center and give blood for various levels to be tested and monitored on a weekly basis, even in my “off” weeks of chemo. I started the process three weeks ago today, and have visited the lab three times now, the third time being today.

On my first visit to the lab, as I was sitting in the cubicle getting my blood drawn, I noticed that the band Journey’s song “Faithfully” was playing on whatever sound system they have there. This took me out of the place of fear in which I found myself on the beginning of Day One (of a very different journey), and transported me back to junior high and high school.

Music has a way of being able to do that, as most of you know.

To say that I was a Journey fan in those days would be an understatement. Starting with their third album, Infinity (yeah, yeah, I’m really dating myself now….I was in the sixth grade when it was released), I became obsessed with the band (as well as its lead singer, Steve Perry). As each album was released, I immediately used my allowance money to buy it. One of my very best friends shared this obsession, and we would spend hours wearing out our vinyl and speculating about each of the band members (especially Steve). The obsession continued through the Frontiers album. And although I lost interest in the later stuff, my fondness for their body of work from ’78-83 still exists. The shit holds up to this day, and my husband shares my deep appreciation for it (yet another of a million things we have in common).

Anyway, back to the lab. Hearing Faithfully – a super cheesy ballad that was played to death on the radio (remember radio?) until even I didn’t like it anymore – reminded me of being the awkward 10th grader I was then, fantasizing about being in the kind of sappy romantic relationship that was the subject of the song. And I realized that I now actually had that kind of “forever yours” relationship. Super cheesy, yes. But it was a much needed distraction that morning, and gave me a humbling jolt of gratitude to keep me going.

Cut to Week Two in the lab. Back in the chair getting blood drawn, and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was playing. Perfect song for where I was and still am; and I was once again transported back to those high school days. (And I started to think this was some kind of sign…I do things like that…look for signs.)

So today I walked into the lab wondering which Journey song would be playing. However, instead of Journey, Prince’s “Purple Rain” was coming through the speakers. Now that song truly was the soundtrack to my senior year of high school. I bet I saw that film at least 20 times in the theater, and that is not an exaggeration. Hearing the song today (which still holds up, by the way….always will), it struck me how much time had passed since I first heard that song. Nearly 28 years ago…what?! Holy shit.

I became emotional thinking of how young and innocent I had been then. And how I could never have imagined that one day, far in the future, I’d be sitting in a lab in a cancer center, my new husband and baby waiting for me, getting blood drawn to monitor the effects of chemotherapy on my system, listening to that same song. Whoa. (By the way, two things that haven’t changed: Purple Rain is still a fucking great album. And Prince looks as good now as as he did then.)

I’ve said before that I was a late bloomer, and it’s true. I’m 44 years old, and in some ways I feel like I’m just getting started. I was 40 before I met the man to whom I am now married and with whom I hope to grow old. And I just now had my first (and last) child. Some of my peers are becoming grandmothers and I have a newborn.

I believe that everything happens exactly as it is supposed to happen, exactly when it is supposed to happen. I would not have been a good mother in my 20s or even in my 30s. Nor, in those days,  was I the best wife and partner I could have been. I did not take relationships or commitment seriously. I was very impulsive; very impatient. I didn’t want to take the time to slow down and think about what I was doing – and the consequences – before taking action. Those default settings are still there, but I now at least try to think a bit before before acting. And I definitely consider how my actions might affect me and others.

It wasn’t until I was 39 that I really got serious about looking at myself….deciding to do the tough inner work to change unhealthy patterns of behavior and look for the authentic self I knew was inside me. Once I started on that journey, life started opening up for me in positive ways I never imagined. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t have it all figured out. Far from it. I’m very much still a work in progress. I don’t think any of us is ever “done” growing and evolving. Not while we’re still breathing anyway.

I wouldn’t change much, if anything, about my past. The choices I made, the relationships and experiences I had, even the mistakes and missteps…all made me the person I am today. And I like that person.

I’ve gone through many transformations in my life. There was the awkward girl with the feathered hair daydreaming about Steve Perry. And the goth girl with the bad perm going to see Purple Rain 20 times in the theater. And many, many iterations thereafter.

A few years ago I experienced one of the biggest transformations of my life when I met and fell in love with my husband. Love, real love, I found is extraordinarily transforming….feeling totally comfortable being authentic with someone…having no secrets….letting that person see behind the curtain, and finding that they love you anyway.  Trusting. Loving unconditionally. Accepting love. Therein lies true freedom.

Then, another massive transformation….motherhood. I never thought I’d be a mother. Once I passed a certain age, I sort of let go of the notion that it was going to happen. My husband was kind of in the same place when we met. He and I were the exact same age; had both been previously married; had never had children; and had no plans to do so. And we were both totally okay with it. Then, something happened that made us both re-think the idea of starting a family. So, after much time and serious consideration, we decided to put it out to the universe that we would like to have a baby if we were meant to have a baby. And then we had a baby.

We were transformed in that moment, the moment our daughter was born. One minute we were this DINK (dual income, no kids) couple with tons of freedom and flexible responsibilities; the next we were…parents. Everything changed in that moment. And not in the ways we had feared, but in wonderful ways we never could have imagined. Ways that reveal themselves to us more each day. Neither of us will ever be the same again.

Now I’m going through a different sort of transformation. Or another simultaneous transformation. I realized it the other day when I was looking in the mirror.

Have you ever really taken the time to look yourself in the eye in the mirror…to truly make eye contact with yourself? And not just for a few seconds, but for actual minutes. It’s harder than you’d think, at least it is for me. When I took the time to do it recently, I saw something different in my eyes. I was different. I had been through a stunning and unexpected diagnosis, two major surgeries, and two sessions of chemotherapy…so, of course I was different. But this was very strange. I almost didn’t recognize the woman I saw in the mirror. She looked a bit sad, a bit wiser, and a bit…something else. I can’t really explain it, but there was a definite change. A loss of innocence maybe. And a much more profound appreciation for the simple experience of standing in my bathroom and looking in the mirror. It was an emotional thing.

I call this post Part I because I know that this particular transformation is just beginning. I am changing, inside and out. I have scars that weren’t there six weeks ago. I am missing quite a few pieces and parts. My scalp is tender and sore to the touch now…I know that hair loss is eminent, and I have some sadness and fear about that. I know that my skin my also change, and other things as well. I might look like a sick person. Strangers on the street will likely know I have cancer. I won’t be able to hide it anymore.

But I have no choice other than to deal with each new thing as it happens.

I told my husband I was writing about transformation, and he asked if part of my transformation would include being able to ask for and accept help. I told him I didn’t know but that I’d certainly try to be more aware of it. This is still very hard for me, but I’m saying “yes” to offers of help now occasionally and finding that it really is…helpful. So I may try to do more of that.

There are lessons in this for me every single day. I’ve had some very dear dear souls, including my husband, tell me they wish that they could take this – this cancer – away from me, or that they wish it was happening to them instead. I thank them sincerely from the bottom of my heart, but also know in my heart that if I skipped over all of the hard stuff to the cancer free part (and I truly believe there will be a cancer free part), I would miss the lessons. And missing the lessons would be missing the point of all of this. This being the cancer and all of the circumstances surrounding its discovery. This being the birth of our healthy child against extraordinary odds. I know there is a point to all of this. There must be a point to all of this.

So all I can do is be grateful each day for the lessons, and to appreciate the ongoing transformation. My hope is that I’ll come out on the other side of this a healthier, stronger, wiser, more grateful, choosier and more compassionate woman, with a greater appreciation for absolutely everything. I’m already a bit more of all of those things than I was just a few weeks ago, pre-diagnosis. And the lessons continue.

Love and gratitude,
Joanna

P.S. Speaking of gratitude and transformation, our little 6-week old Magpie is smiling now…is there anything more heart-filling than that?

So, as part of my treatment, I have to go the lab at the cancer center and give blood for various levels to be tested and monitored on a weekly basis, even in my “off” weeks of chemo. I started the process three weeks ago today, and have visited the lab three times now, the third time being today.

On my first visit to the lab, as I was sitting in the cubicle getting my blood drawn, I noticed that the band Journey’s song “Faithfully” was playing on whatever sound system they have there. This took me out of the place of fear in which I found myself on the beginning of Day One (of a very different journey), and transported me back to junior high and high school.

Music has a way of being able to do that, as most of you know.

To say that I was a Journey fan in those days would be an understatement. Starting with their third album, Infinity (yeah, yeah, I’m really dating myself now….I was in the sixth grade when it was released), I became obsessed with the band (as well as its lead singer, Steve Perry). As each album was released, I immediately used my allowance money to buy it. One of my very best friends shared this obsession, and we would spend hours wearing out our vinyl and speculating about each of the band members (especially Steve). The obsession continued through the Frontiers album. And although I lost interest in the later stuff, my fondness for their body of work from ’78-83 still exists. The shit holds up to this day, and my husband shares my deep appreciation for it (yet another of a million things we have in common).

Anyway, back to the lab. Hearing Faithfully – a super cheesy ballad that was played to death on the radio (remember radio?) until even I didn’t like it anymore – reminded me of being the awkward 10th grader I was then, fantasizing about being in the kind of sappy romantic relationship that was the subject of the song. And I realized that I now actually had that kind of “forever yours” relationship. Super cheesy, yes. But it was a much needed distraction that morning, and gave me a humbling jolt of gratitude to keep me going.

Cut to Week Two in the lab. Back in the chair getting blood drawn, and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was playing. Perfect song for where I was and still am; and I was once again transported back to those high school days. (And I started to think this was some kind of sign…I do things like that…look for signs.)

So today I walked into the lab wondering which Journey song would be playing. However, instead of Journey, Prince’s “Purple Rain” was coming through the speakers. Now that song truly was the soundtrack to my senior year of high school. I bet I saw that film at least 20 times in the theater, and that is not an exaggeration. Hearing the song today (which still holds up, by the way….always will), it struck me how much time had passed since I first heard that song. Nearly 28 years ago…what?! Holy shit.

I became emotional thinking of how young and innocent I had been then. And how I could never have imagined that one day, far in the future, I’d be sitting in a lab in a cancer center, my new husband and baby waiting for me, getting blood drawn to monitor the effects of chemotherapy on my system, listening to that same song. Whoa. (By the way, two things that haven’t changed: Purple Rain is still a fucking great album. And Prince looks as good now as as he did then.)

I’ve said before that I was a late bloomer, and it’s true. I’m 44 years old, and in some ways I feel like I’m just getting started. I was 40 before I met the man to whom I am now married and with whom I hope to grow old. And I just now had my first (and last) child. Some of my peers are becoming grandmothers and I have a newborn.

I believe that everything happens exactly as it is supposed to happen, exactly when it is supposed to happen. I would not have been a good mother in my 20s or even in my 30s. Nor, in those days,  was I the best wife and partner I could have been. I did not take relationships or commitment seriously. I was very impulsive; very impatient. I didn’t want to take the time to slow down and think about what I was doing – and the consequences – before taking action. Those default settings are still there, but I now at least try to think a bit before before acting. And I definitely consider how my actions might affect me and others.

It wasn’t until I was 39 that I really got serious about looking at myself….deciding to do the tough inner work to change unhealthy patterns of behavior and look for the authentic self I knew was inside me. Once I started on that journey, life started opening up for me in positive ways I never imagined. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t have it all figured out. Far from it. I’m very much still a work in progress. I don’t think any of us is ever “done” growing and evolving. Not while we’re still breathing anyway.

I wouldn’t change much, if anything, about my past. The choices I made, the relationships and experiences I had, even the mistakes and missteps…all made me the person I am today. And I like that person.

I’ve gone through many transformations in my life. There was the awkward girl with the feathered hair daydreaming about Steve Perry. And the goth girl with the bad perm going to see Purple Rain 20 times in the theater. And many, many iterations thereafter.

A few years ago I experienced one of the biggest transformations of my life when I met and fell in love with my husband. Love, real love, I found is extraordinarily transforming….feeling totally comfortable being authentic with someone…having no secrets….letting that person see behind the curtain, and finding that they love you anyway.  Trusting. Loving unconditionally. Accepting love. Therein lies true freedom.

Then, another massive transformation….motherhood. I never thought I’d be a mother. Once I passed a certain age, I sort of let go of the notion that it was going to happen. My husband was kind of in the same place when we met. He and I were the exact same age; had both been previously married; had never had children; and had no plans to do so. And we were both totally okay with it. Then, something happened that made us both re-think the idea of starting a family. So, after much time and serious consideration, we decided to put it out to the universe that we would like to have a baby if we were meant to have a baby. And then we had a baby.

We were transformed in that moment, the moment our daughter was born. One minute we were this DINK (dual income, no kids) couple with tons of freedom and flexible responsibilities; the next we were…parents. Everything changed in that moment. And not in the ways we had feared, but in wonderful ways we never could have imagined. Ways that reveal themselves to us more each day. Neither of us will ever be the same again.

Now I’m going through a different sort of transformation. Or another simultaneous transformation. I realized it the other day when I was looking in the mirror.

Have you ever really taken the time to look yourself in the eye in the mirror…to truly make eye contact with yourself? And not just for a few seconds, but for actual minutes. It’s harder than you’d think, at least it is for me. When I took the time to do it recently, I saw something different in my eyes. I was different. I had been through a stunning and unexpected diagnosis, two major surgeries, and two sessions of chemotherapy…so, of course I was different. But this was very strange. I almost didn’t recognize the woman I saw in the mirror. She looked a bit sad, a bit wiser, and a bit…something else. I can’t really explain it, but there was a definite change. A loss of innocence maybe. And a much more profound appreciation for the simple experience of standing in my bathroom and looking in the mirror. It was an emotional thing.

I call this post Part I because I know that this particular transformation is just beginning. I am changing, inside and out. I have scars that weren’t there six weeks ago. I am missing quite a few pieces and parts. My scalp is tender and sore to the touch now…I know that hair loss is eminent, and I have some sadness and fear about that. I know that my skin my also change, and other things as well. I might look like a sick person. Strangers on the street will likely know I have cancer. I won’t be able to hide it anymore.

But I have no choice other than to deal with each new thing as it happens.

I told my husband I was writing about transformation, and he asked if part of my transformation would include being able to ask for and accept help. I told him I didn’t know but that I’d certainly try to be more aware of it. This is still very hard for me, but I’m saying “yes” to offers of help now occasionally and finding that it really is…helpful. So I may try to do more of that.

There are lessons in this for me every single day. I’ve had some very dear dear souls, including my husband, tell me they wish that they could take this – this cancer – away from me, or that they wish it was happening to them instead. I thank them sincerely from the bottom of my heart, but also know in my heart that if I skipped over all of the hard stuff to the cancer free part (and I truly believe there will be a cancer free part), I would miss the lessons. And missing the lessons would be missing the point of all of this. This being the cancer and all of the circumstances surrounding its discovery. This being the birth of our healthy child against extraordinary odds. I know there is a point to all of this. There must be a point to all of this.

So all I can do is be grateful each day for the lessons, and to appreciate the ongoing transformation. My hope is that I’ll come out on the other side of this a healthier, stronger, wiser, more grateful, choosier and more compassionate woman, with a greater appreciation for absolutely everything. I’m already a bit more of all of those things than I was just a few weeks ago, pre-diagnosis. And the lessons continue.

Love and gratitude,
Joanna

P.S. Speaking of gratitude and transformation, our little 6-week old Magpie is smiling now…is there anything more heart-filling than that?

Okay, I’m up and about on Day Four of the first cycle of treatment, with Days Three and Four predicted to be two of the most difficult per cycle.

For those who might be curious, here’s how it’s going so far:

If a train is going to hit me, it hasn’t yet. Nor has a cute little Smart Car moving at slow speed. Perhaps an overzealous bicycle messenger not looking where he was going….or the kiddie train at Legoland…but that’s about the worst of it. Some achiness and slight flu-like symptoms, but nothing so far that I can’t handle. Thankfully I have had very little nausea, and am pretty much able to eat and drink to keep up my strength.

I hope I’m not jinxing anything by saying this prematurely, but I think I can handle this. I’ve been able to take care of our baby girl (although I may move a bit slower during the middle of the night feedings). And I think she may have picked up that my energy was a bit off because hers seemed to be a bit off yesterday as well (until a visit from her godfather hit the reset button and turned her into her usual squishy bundle of bliss). My hope is to remedy that today by putting myself in a better mindset. It’s clear that the whole household – adults, baby, dogs, cats alike – can feed off of the weird energy of just one of us.

Yesterday, I did a lot of lolling about and wasn’t very productive. And I’ve learned that this does more harm than good for me emotionally and psychologically. So today’s experiment will be – while remaining gentle with myself – to get up and about and get some shit done. Even if it’s just laundry or organizing or ordering groceries online or tackling some thank you notes or taking a walk….something, anything. I think DOING will help me feel more like myself and less like a sick person. At least it’s worth a shot.

My husband has been sooo wonderful, as have our friends, family and support network….but I don’t want it all to fall on their shoulders. I want to be right in there too, although it’s comforting to know I have a cushy safety net beneath me and permission to let go and use it when necessary.

I found myself fantasizing last night about going away to some magic cancer-fighting spa-like clinic for five months and coming back healthy, to spare my loved ones the ugliness that comes along with this treatment process. It has already gotten “real real” around here, and it’s only going to get more so before it gets better.

As a newlywed head over heels in love with her husband, and someone who has historically tried to put her best foot forward appearance-wise, it has been a real struggle to drop the mask. My husband will tell you that I was never as successful at controlling perception as I thought I was. And, granted, I would say that he knows me better than anyone. But it’s still a hard thing for a woman – at least this woman – to let go of the physical characteristics that make us feel good about ourselves: hair, skin, muscle tone, the inner glow of good health, being active…all of that stuff. This is transparency at its most raw.

But when I think about what makes me feel most like myself, and what helped bring my husband and I together in the first place, it is laughter. Big inappropriate belly laughs. Along with music, laughter and humor have always kept me going and have served as great medicine for me throughout my whole life. And I haven’t been laughing nearly enough lately. There has been a sort of pall over me, and us, and I don’t like it. So my goal today is to do enough to feel productive while not over-doing; to enjoy my husband and little girl; and to find humor along the way, because it’s all around.

Love and laughter,
Jo

Second treatment down; 16 to go. So far, so good.

To quote one of my husband’s rock star business partners, Gavin Ivester, yesterday the first flaming arrow was launched over the bow at cancer’s ass.

Today I spent the better part of eight hours being power loaded with fluids, chemotherapy (Cisplatin, for those who speak cancer), and more fluids….about four liters altogether….all administered through an IP port aimed at the .5 cm of known remaining tumor in my body. This took about six hours. The remaining two hours of the day were spend with me being moved up and down, side to side, every 15 minutes, to literally slosh around the fluids and coat my insides with cancer killing poison… the goal being to obliterate any random cells of the bad stuff that might be lurking about in dark corners.

Aside from feeling a bit like I’ve been filled with six liters of fluid and then sloshed around like a human martini, I feel pretty good. No nausea, no flu-like symptoms, no feeling like I’ve been hit by a train. They tell me that the anti-nausea meds they’ve given me will keep the symptoms at bay for about 36 hours, and that the side effects generally hit on days three and four. This means that I should start feeling the effects this weekend.

It’s a pretty strange feeling, having been pumped full of poison and being told that I won’t feel the effects for about three days. It occurred to me this morning that I must feel a bit like the lady tied to the proverbial train tracks must feel. Something big is coming toward her; it doesn’t appear that it can be stopped; she doesn’t know what it’s going to feel like when it hits, or how disfigured she’ll be afterward; if she’ll survive the impact; or if she’ll perhaps be rescued at the last second.

One of my dearest cancer goddess cheerleaders – an ethereal soul who has been in the trenches with me on this from the moment I got the news – told me today that perhaps it won’t feel at all like a train, but maybe just like one of those cute little Smart Cars, going at low speed. I could live with that.

I will say that once I got Day One behind me, and the unknown of “What Chemotherapy Would Be Like” became the known, my anxiety dissipated tremendously. I started to feel the old “I’ve got this” again, and it was a great feeling. After Day Two, I felt a bit more assured. The not-knowing-what’s-going-to-happen-next thing is a bit unnerving, but I feel pretty confident that I can handle whatever comes. Me, and my army that is.

I’ve gotten a couple more reality checks this week – little reminders that this cancer thing is no small affair. First, I learned yesterday that the CA-125 protein levels in my blood – an ovarian cancer tumor marker of sorts typically used as a baseline – had actually gone up rather than down post-surgery.

When I asked my oncologist if this was unexpected, given the fact that she had just removed a shit-ton of cancer from my body, she admitted in her to-the-point way that it was a bit “surprising and disappointing”.

However, the change in levels was not significant, ie., it didn’t double, nor was it cut in half. It just went slightly up instead of down. And apparently the trauma of surgery can affect the protein levels… and I’ve had not one but two major surgeries in the past month.

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to cut Ms. CA-125 some slack for now and just see what she does on a go-forward basis. The levels will be checked weekly throughout the treatment process, and the hope and expectation will be that they will continue to decline.

The next little reality check was my learning that, post-surgery, my oncologist told my loved ones and me (the drugged me with no recollection of the conversation) that the national average for five-year survival for someone with my type and stage of cancer was 50%…fifty-fifty. Not the best odds, right? But, as my ethereal cancer goddess cheerleader pointed out, those odds do not factor in my age, nor my relative good health, nor the success of the debulking during surgery, nor all of the incredible motivators in my life.

My primary care doc says that our little girl alone puts my odds at 90% at least. And I believe him.

Which brings me to a story told to me by one of my husband’s long-time mentors, who also happens to be someone I have known and respected for years. It’s about General Anthony Clement McAuliffe, a US Army general who commanded the 101st Airborne Division troops during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. McAuliffe is famous for his single word reply to the Germans’ demand for surrender. His official reply was typed and delivered to the German delegation as follows: “NUTS!”.  It later had to be explained to the German delegates that NUTS in plain English actually meant “Go to Hell”.

And NUTS is what this mutual friend and mentor has told me is the message I should send to my cancer. Or Go to Hell. Or, in my vernacular even, Fuck that Shit. I’m not going out like that. I’m just not.

So, as I see it, I’m not tied to the tracks. The train might be coming, but I’ve got an army behind me, beneath me and all around me who are going to help cushion the blow and see me through to the other side.

I’ve got this. I really believe I’ve got this. And believing is the most important thing.

Love and gratitude,
Jo

There’s a scene in one of my all-time favorite films, “The Princess Bride” (which is also one of my husband’s favorite films….we bonded over quoting lines from it in the early days of our flirtation), in which Vizzini, the Sicilian, and Westley (disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts) engage in a Battle of Wits, where each tries to manipulate the other into drinking wine poisoned with deadly iocane powder.

Vizzini: “You’ve heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?”

Westley/DPR: “Yes”

Vizzini: “Morons.”

Given that the film was released in theaters some 25 years ago, I don’t think it’s a spoiler at this point to say that Westley wins the battle, due to the fact that he had deliberately built up a tolerance for iocane powder. However, upon first viewing of the film, the audience doesn’t know which of the two participants has consumed the poisoned wine or how it will affect the loser.

I feel a little like that today.

I spent five hours today being infused with poison, the first of 18 such sessions. Today one chemotherapy drug (Paclitaxel a/k/a Taxol) was administered through an IV injectin in my arm. Tomorrow, a different drug (Cisplatin) will be administered through an IP port directly into my abdomen. I go back again next Thursday for Day Three of the first of six three-session cycles. During each of the 18 sessions, along with the chemo drugs, I will simultaneously be given several different anti-nausea meds. These are apparently pretty successful in staving off many of the physical side effects, such that it could be as many as 36 hours after the first session in each cycle before I start to feel any significant effects.

Today is Thursday. It will likely be this Saturday before I know how well – or how poorly – my body reacts to chemotherapy in terms of side effects. My oncologist tells me that I’ll likely be very tired, with achy muscles, and may feel as though I have the flu. I may also feel as though I’ve been hit by a truck.

In the meantime, we’re in “wait and see” mode, a feeling which can be quite unnerving.

Right now, however, I’m not feeling half bad. I spent the better part of the day at the hospital, literally sleeping through the administering of the cancer-killing drugs, then came home to spend time with sweet Magnolia Grace and all of our animals. I was pleased and relieved to find that they were all as glad to see me as always, and I was greeted with lots of kissing and nuzzling. This made me very happy.

Side bar: One of my fears, you see, is that as I become more toxic with repeated infusions of poison, our dogs and cats and possibly even our baby will be turned off by the change in me and not want to be around me. I’ve heard that that can happen (which is reason #1,374 why one should never, ever, ever read cancer message boards).

In the past few days leading up to today – Chemo Day One – I found myself feeling more and more nervous about the unknown…what the process would be like, how my body would react, and how this would affect my life. Because I really like my life, our little family routine, and do not want it to change. Change is something I’ve always had trouble embracing.

The anxiety over the chemotherapy process got so bad that it was making it difficult for me to breathe, relax or be present. So, after determining that I wasn’t experiencing any heart or lung problems, my primary care physician prescribed for me a low dose of an anti-anxiety medicine to take as needed. This being my first go-round with prescription anti-anxiety meds (which, for a 44-year old woman who has lived – to quote a dear friend and the godfather of our child – quite a “rangy” life, is somewhat of a miracle in and of itself), all I can say is thank the pharmaceutical gods for Xanax.

I digress. Back to change. Even though I’ve historically had trouble embracing change, I have to say that change has, almost without exception, ultimately been beneficial to me. In fact, change is what made me decide to take proactive steps toward breaking unhealthy patterns and life choices. Change is what led me into the healthiest, most transparent relationship of my lifetime. Change is what led me to decide to start a family later in life. Change is what led me to freedom and happiness. And I don’t want something like cancer to fuck up all of that for me now. So my only choice is to embrace this treatment and the change it brings with it.

So far it seems that this treatment may very well have some side benefits in store for me beyond the obvious ultimate benefit – eradicating my body of cancer. Such as: letting go of attachment to outcome; letting go of the desire to control; being overly focused on outward appearance; endeavoring to control other’s perceptions of me; making unhealthy choices out of laziness; taking my health and family and loved ones for granted….the list goes on.

This is what is known in some circles as AFGO. Another Fucking Growth Opportunity. And this one is a doozy. A motherfucking doozy. (P.S. If cussing offends you, you might not want to follow this blog. I come by it naturally and cancer seems to have enhanced the tendency. If you or a loved one has had cancer, you know what I mean.)

I have no choice at this point but to embrace this bundle of growth opportunities; to put myself in the hands of the experts and medical science (with some holistic stuff intermingled therein for good measure); to start making healthier choices; to live in and appreciate each day; to keep my head where my feet are; to learn to accept help; and to breathe….deep, lung-filling breaths…as long as I have the ability to do so.

And even though the coming days (and weeks and months) may be rough, I feel better tonight than I did last night. Because I now know much more what to expect. And I made it through the first day. Waves of support and well wishes surrounded me today as well, creating a big, fat cushion of comfort. To say that it made the day more bearable would be an understatement. (And that half tab of Xanax didn’t hurt either.)

So, I wait. Wait to see what happens next. And enjoy the good stuff along the way.

Love and gratitude,
Jo

I’ve been feeling a bit tight chested and unable to take really good, full deep breaths these past couple of days. After consulting with my primary care physician (a rock star in his field with an intellect, dedication and bedside manner of mythical proportions), it seems that some of my symptoms may be indicative of anxiety relating to what lies ahead.

Okay, so I do have to admit I’m pretty darn nervous about all of it.

This reminded me of a quote from another rock star type in his day:

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

Regardless of my fears and apprehensions, I am going to saddle up in just about 36 hours and get this process started. In the meantime, I’m asking the universe for peace, strength and courage. Because as one of my cancer co-warrior goddesses reminded me today, “chemo fucking sucks, but it’s better than cancer.”

True that.