One thing that I’m noticing as I get closer to the end of chemo, is how much scarier the rest of my life is going to be, or at least the forseeable future. One would think that I would be happier, and feeling better emotionally, as I get closer to the end of my chemotherapy. Unfortunately, I’m finding that’s not really the case and it’s actually getting harder.
When I tell people what I’ve got left in the way of treatment, they get so excited that I’m almost done, that I only have two cycles of chemotherapy left, that by summer I will be done chemotherapy and radiation and go back to “normal”.
Unfortunately, it’s not true. My ordeal is far from over.
Firstly, I still have a lot of medical treatment to get through:
1. I still have two more chemotherapy cycles which is six weeks, and as hard as I am trying to deny it, chemo is getting harder. I am now three days away from my next infusion, and I still have not bounced back to myself. I’m hoping that’s just because I still have a cold, but it might be the chemo. Either way, I get colds all the time between March and May, so I’m not really anticipating much more “good time” until the end of chemo. The first couple months of chemo, there were days and even weeks where I pretty much felt like myself. That’s gone now and I’m not anticipating it coming back, so these next two cycles of chemo are not as easy to face as it once was. Especially since the docetaxel seems much harder on me than the first chemo I was doing.
2. After chemotherapy, I still have radiation. A lot of people say radiation is “easy”, but it isn’t always. It can be exhausting, and sometimes you can get pretty bad burns. I’m quite pale and my breasts do not get a lot of sun exposure, so I’m quite worried about burns. Besides that, it is every day, five days a week, for five weeks. That’s a lot of time to spend at the hospital, a lot of running around, a lot of reminders that I have cancer, no time to just feel like me and pretend I’m healthy like I was sometimes able to do it when I was only at the hospital 2 days every three weeks.
3. After radiation I will have to take a hormonal medication for 5 to 10 years, to limit the amount of oestrogen in my body because my cancer is oestrogen reactive. I’m glad that my cancer reacts to oestrogen because that means I have the opportunity to take these medications, and lower the chance of recurrence. However these medications are not easy, side effects can be quite difficult. Furthermore, my understanding is that they are more effective if I also supress my ovaries, which means more medication to do that or having my ovaries removed, either of which mean menopause and all the fears that brings. So I’m looking at medications for 5 to 10 years, going into menopause much earlier than anticipated, and possibly another surgery.
Besides treatment, I will have to face more tests and more doctors appointments, and with every one of them I will have to face the fear that the cancer has come back either locally or metastasized.
Besides all the physical stuff I will have to deal with, treatment and doctors appointments, there is the emotional. I do not just get to go back to being myself when my treatment is done (hopefully before that if I respond decently to the hormonal medications and changes). I do not get to just look like myself, I do not get to just feel like myself. Many things will have to start from scratch, or at least from quite a few steps back.
I will have to grow back my hair and eyelashes and eyebrows, and they may not grow back the way I like them or the way they were before. Like most women, how I feel is often tied to how I look, and I don’t even know how I’m going to look. I do know that even if I do eventually get to look the way I like, I’ve probably got at least a year until that happens. As confident as I act about having no hair, doing my make up well, and thinking I look OK, it is still hard to look this way, and to not have any control over it. I still have a long time to wait before that’s over.
Although I have not had gained weight I have lost fitness, I still could gain weight but even if I don’t, I will still have to build back my fitness and my strength. Of course it is physically stressful to think about that, but also emotionally. Any readers of my blog know how hard I have worked to have the body, the fitness, the stamina, and the endurance that I wanted and that I had right up to the day before I found my lump when I ran a 15 km race. Is very important to my emotional well-being and identity that I can get that back, but physically I don’t know how hard that’s going to be. I suspect it won’t be easy, because I am older now, and my body has been through an ordeal, and will continue to be as I will no longer be premenopausal. We women all know that fitness and especially bodyweight is harder to control after menopause, but I thought I had a lot longer to get to that point.
Emotionally, I have become somebody who is no longer able to assume I am healthy and not battling a life-threatening condition. I will somehow have to make peace with that, somehow have to make peace with the fact that I am more likely to get cancer again, somehow not have to panic every time something hurts or feels lumpy or feels different and while waiting for the results of every doctors appointment. I have to live with a never-ending fear that this is going to come back, that it will be worse, that I am will have to do all this treatment (and more) again, that I will have to put my kids through it all, and that at the end if it I might die. Maybe soon-ish (probably not in the next year, but before my kids grow up).
There are also the fears I have for my social life and my marriage. Although there’s loads of people following my blog, commenting on my Facebook, and offering to do anything to help me…friendships have changed and not always for the better. Everybody might want to be there for me, but the circle of people that want to be there with me has gotten quite small. Although my marriage is strong and my husband is incredible, this is hard on a marriage as well…I don’t need to get into the details but I will say that both emotionally and physically, cancer certainly has had a toll on my marriage and my relationship with my husband and although some of it has been very positive there have been challenges as well, and I don’t really know when I can expect those to get better because I don’t anticipate that the hormonal changes still to come are going to be positive ones in that regard!
Although I am confident that at some point I will almost feel like I have my life back, I know that it will never be the life I had before and that was a life that I loved, and I know it will be a long time before I reach “a new normal” that I am truly happy with.