The Real Battle Begins

March 12, 2012

Chemotherapy begins today.

I’m scared about it.

This is a much different type of fear than the fear I felt right before my mastectomy.  I didn’t cry yesterday over losses like I did the day before surgery.  And I wasn’t up all night panicked that I was making the wrong decision, searching for anyone to tell me what to do or that everything was going to be okay.

Although it is similar in the way that it’s a fear of the unknown.  A fear about my body changing.  (Although this time, no one is sure exactly how my body is going to change as side-effects are different in each patient.)

I keep telling everyone that I have super powers and that the side-effects aren’t going to get the better of me.  This makes my friends laugh, cheer me on in support.  It makes my nurses look at me a little funny.

But I have been doing as much as I can to prepare my body for battle.  I’m exercising more.  I’m doing stretches everyday that the physical therapist showed me to help increase the function of my lymph nodes.  I’ve worked hard to change my diet.  I eliminated coffee three weeks ago.  I make sure to get 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, as is recommended for patients going through chemo.  Green tea every day.  Twelve glasses of fluids total each day.  Tons of vitamin C.  Tons of fiber.  No pastas.  Only whole grains.  And I am working hard to cut out refined sugar.

Breakfast yesterday... 3 servings of fruit (the juice is just pressed apples, so it counts), enough asparagus (doused in flaxseed oil) to count as 2 servings of veggies, a protein/omega 3 and green/licorice tea (licorice root is supposed to have some amazing healing capabilities).














Sugar has been the hardest.  Seriously… me and sugar go waaaay back.  He has ALWAYS been there for me.  And when you grow up with Wonder Mom who bakes fresh pies, cookies, shortcakes, muffins, danishes on almost a daily basis… it’s hard not to find comfort in sugar.

I’ve been experimenting with uses of honey, agave nectar, etc.  And chocolate in small doses is okay, as long as it is organic, dark and has at least a 75% cacao ranking.

Here is a brownie recipe, using no sugar and no flour, that I experimented with this weekend so I could have some comfort food while in the chemo suite.

Black Bean Brownie Recipe

Another  thing that scares me about today is the use of my port site.

I had a port implanted in my chest about 6 weeks ago.  It’s just a little guy right under my skin… there are three little metal discs surrounding a kind of mesh looking pad.  This way, the nurses can locate the port with a magnet every time and get the needle in just the right spot.  From behind the mesh pad, there’s a little tube that runs from my chest, up over my collarbone and into a vein in my neck so that all the chemicals get directly into the blood stream.  They use this guy cause it will decrease risks of lymphedema (since I had lymph nodes removed under both arms) and reduce the risk of my veins collapsing during treatment.

They have accessed the port once before to draw labs.  It wasn’t horrible.  Getting the needle stuck in the chest really took my breath away and that was about it.  But it my mind, it still plays out like one of those scenes in a movie where they have to crack someone’s chest and puncture the lung to get the person to breathe.  That’s how intense I visualize it to be, even though I know it isn’t.  Needles… I just get so worked up…

Here’s a picture of the port site a couple of days after the implantation procedure.

The incision sites have healed up a lot since.  Also in this picture, you can see the start of reconstruction (cleavage).  The expandable implants in my chest are currently up to full size.  They weren’t quite when this photo was taken.

The past week has been frustrating.  My oncologist has not been helpful or even reachable.  The nurses at his practice tried to cancel my chemo education session this week, blowing it off like I didn’t really need to know anything until the morning of treatment.  (Which wasn’t true, as I found out 4 days ago that I needed to be taking prescriptions before treatment.)  I understand that they do this everyday at their office… but this is the very first time for me.  And being shuffled around, ignored, brushed aside left me feeling more than frustrated.

No one would answer my questions.  I got sent home with notebooks full of medical information to sift through on my own without anyone being willing to go over things with me.  And my doctor would not speak with me.  The receptionist wouldn’t even let me speak directly to a nurse without taking a handwritten message first and getting a nurse to call me back.  ‘Protocol,’ she said.  (Sidenote:  I am VERY grateful to Dr A.  He has been so supportive through everything.  And he took time out of his busy week to meet with me, even though it is not his job to do so.  And he pulled some strings to get me in with a new oncologist, Dr B,  a colleague of Dr A’s, who explained even more to me and who is willing to take me on as a patient starting in April, when Dr B’s practice will begin taking my insurance.)  But I had to use my mean voice, which I HATE doing, a couple of times this week just to be heard or allowed to speak to my own doctor before I start this very scary process.  But at least I got my much needed chemo education session out of it. (Which was another notebook full of info I got sent home with.)

Yesterday I made a chemo activity bag.  It’s filled with magazines different people have sent; coloring books, colored pencils and crayons from friends and family; a knitting project; my nook for reading (thanks again, Damascafarians); my journal; my thesis notebook; snacks and travel scrabble.  AA and I will be there for at least 4 hours today and we are determined to pass the time in a good way.

Also in preparation for chemo this week… I cut off all my hair.  This has probably been the most difficult step in this process.  Since I was a little bitty girl, I have always believed: “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her.” (1 Corinthians 11:15).  I don’t know why it’s one of the Sunday School verses that always stuck with me, but it did.  Not to mention that since high school ( a little ironically now) I have always let my hair grow and grow down past my waist so that I can donate about a foot of hair a year to Locks of Love.  My hair has never been shorter than chin length, and always then… it was cut off just so it could grow long again.

But my doctor says my hair will start falling out in 2-3 weeks.  And I thought it would be less traumatic if it was already short once it started to go.

Sigh… so here it is….

I’m not crazy about it.  I think it makes me look like Peter Pan.  So I have taken liberties to start crowing whenever I feel like it.

Gearing up for chemo… it’s left me feeling very little like myself.

From using the mean voice to watching my sugar intake to saying goodbye to my pretty hair… even the snowglobe-esque expanders that will have to stay in my chest for the next 7 months.  I feel different all over.  This new cancer person doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to good ‘ol G.   And I don’t like it.

I mostly feel like me on the inside.  But I also feel like there’s nothing left on the outside that illustrates my strength, my kindness or my love of cake.  Pure.  White.  Cake.  Mmmmm…..

In other news… I can officially sleep on my side again.  Not quite as nice as sleeping on my stomach… but much better than trying to sleep sitting up.  Always a sliver lining…

Oh!  And… SMF, whom I have recently been introduced to, made this for me: The Cancer Games  It’s another way for people to stay ‘abreast’ of information about what’s happening in the battle arena.  And there is now a link for it at the top of this blog page.

Hey… Chemo – prepare to have your ass kicked today.

End cancer chapter 7.


14 Responses to “The Real Battle Begins”

  1. Susan Says:

    I know you don’t Luke your hair and it will probably be going soon, but I think it is super cute!! Very chic. Good luck kicking chemo butt. Go Super G!!

  2. Sarah R Says:

    I am actually sporting a pixie cut myself these days. Twinsies!
    Yours looks adorable!

  3. Rick Whelan Says:

    This blog is going to make a fantastic book someday that will help thousands! Stay strong …

  4. Tara W Says:

    Gwen you will win this war! Perhaps there’s a St Baldrick’s in your area that can help you laugh some 🙂 I will keep you in my thoughts all day and hope your passes quickly! HUGS.

  5. Connie Silver Says:

    Sending you Love and Light as you go through Chemo. And I love the short hair on you.

  6. chanda Says:

    Oh my gosh! You look stunning! I absolutely love your new cut… Those brown eyes really pop now. Love you!

  7. Ben G. Says:

    A) I miss you. B) the hair really is cute. You look fierce, like a warrior.
    And let’s not forget that while Peter pan was but a boy, he was also fierce with a dagger, and always up for an adventure. So perhaps you’re more like him than you think.

  8. Kathleen Swift Says:

    ❤ Sweet Lady

  9. Susan Larissa Says:

    Gwen, you are brave, strong and beautiful. The short hair is stunning! Thinking of you daily and admiring your humor and strength.

  10. GA Says:

    I hate to disagree with you right off the bat, but I like the haircut. At least you didn’t go for the “Edward’s Sisters’ Look Alike Cut” that has been recently popular in the family : ) Also, chocolate cake is way better than white can ever imagine being.

    How did the brownies turn out? You can’t just leave us in suspense like that?

    On the serious side, I hate that you have been having a negative experience with your oncologist’s team. It really puzzles me how our medical system can produce so many healthcare professionals that seem apathetic about educating the patients and truly involving them in their own care. There are good ones out there and I think you did the right thing by being active and vocal about having your concerns addressed and finding the best route to ensure they are met -even if you did have to use your “mean voice”.

  11. Pablo Says:

    Your hair looks cute. Take it from a dude.

  12. Marcia Shaver Says:

    Yes this is a beginning to a great book. Glad you got a new oncologist, had same bad experience with Tom. Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Your courage will see you through this hard time.

    Continue to pray for you and blessings to you and your support group.


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