Tomorrow is the last of my 12 chemo sessions. While this is a huge milestone for me, it’s not the end of my journey by a Long way. The last few weeks has seen a flurry of side effects assaulting me from all sides, leaving me sometimes depressed, but also pissed off and just wanting to scream enough already. But, I’m also strangely excited that I’m getting to draw a line under chemo and embark on the next stage. I’d like to call this process “Looking like a normal woman again”.
Now although my chemo will be over, I will have another 40 weeks of Herceptin transfusions. There was an article recently on the BBC about how Herceptin was a remarkable drug in reducing and even eliminating cancer. Well, that’s what I’m on, for my HER2 positive cancer. The transfusions run approximately half an hour and I get it every 3 weeks. Side effects aren’t noticeable but, they need to monitor the heart for any changes. Hmm must note that….
Then, I also will need to take tamoxifen which is a medicine targeted toward hormone receptor positive cancer, in my case, ER+/PR+ (estrogen and progesterone positive). This pill is taken daily for a period of 5-10 years. I did question why I’d need to take it, as I’d had a bilateral mastectomy and hence no breast tissue – but was cautioned that hey, what if there was a tiny breast cell left? Okay then. Let’s take the tamoxifen. Side effects are…. Early menopause. Fantastic. So I can expect hot flashes, mood swings, amongst a host of other things.
All this in the name of living eh?
Now, why I said that chemo is a sucker punch, is that some of the effects are only noticed by myself – these include :
- taste buds that don’t taste anything, or I’m yearning for “that” particular taste which I have no means of knowing what it is I want until I find it. It’s a horrible feeling in my mouth, and so I’m constantly trying to get rid of it, by tasting and eating. I find that plain crackers, watermelon, preserved plums known as “asam boi”, fruit in general, toast with butter, all help. Or spicy food, sour food so something like Tom yam is great.
- The tingling feeling in my fingers and toes, which I was told would start to manifest itself halfway through chemo, is now constantly there. Around week 6, I started to notice it sometimes, but it was negligible. Now, I find that my feet are numb and tingling and these prevent me from sleeping. Flossing hurts my fingers, and I just discovered today that buttoning my shirt was a slight challenge. These feelings should disappear, or dissipate, but in some cases, they don’t.
There are also other effects which unfortunately I can’t hide from the world
- Okay, so my hair is the obvious one. I’d shaved it to a grade 1, and it was all poky and I hated it. Absolutely hated it. So much so that it prevented me from heading to the pilates studio, or the gym, because I didn’t know how to hide it. Yesterday I had it shaved completely. And I think I hate it more. The feeling of a totally bald head wigs me out. It feels so weird! And don’t get me started on how it looks. It’s anaemically white, and has these red spots on it. Gross.
- I also have bad acne. All down my T zone. It’s disgusting.
- Then, the weight gain. You’d expect someone on chemo to lose weight, perhaps because these women haven’t got an appetite because they may be on the “bad” chemo. But, I’ve now discovered that it’s quite normal to put on weight during chemo. First of, the steroids they give you just make you pile on weight. Coupled with 99% reduction in exercise, and then, eating whatever because of that constant searching for relief for the taste buds. I didn’t stand a chance. At last weigh in, I had put on 5 kg.
- Bloated gut. These antibiotics I’m on cause my tummy to bloat so badly I look 6 months pregnant. It sounds like a Tom-Tom drum when I thump it. And you. know how to get gas out right? Uh-huh. I’ve even given up blaming it all on the dog.
So there you have it. Sure, I know that I’m better off than a lot of people with cancer, but this is my journey and it sucks. Oh I didn’t mention the final assault.
Looking in the mirror before or after a shower. I actually try to avoid my reflection at all costs. Because when I look in the mirror, I see an ugly spotty bald head, acne, a moon face, a left breast that’s unnaturally oval with an angry scar horizontally across, a totally flat right side of my chest that has multiple scars and a shade of dark grey skin (this is unhealthy skin that was the result of all the stretching when I had the fluid build up). Gaze further down and my torso is a map of red scars the size of a pencil’s eraser tip. These are from the drainage insertions. Then, under my armpits I have two smiles for scars, and a build up of scar tissue everywhere. Then scroll down to the body I had worked hard to build up through nutrition and exercise, and I see a flabby fat woman. A bit like, the Pilsbury Dough Boy meets the Michelin Man. But maybe with ET’s head.
I call myself a cyborg, an alien. Because that’s how I look, and that’s how I feel. But, while I am feeling sorry for myself, I am looking toward the horizon. I’m trusting myself with nursing my health back. I know what to do. Now, actually doing it? That’s going to be the challenge. But I need to get stronger, both mentally and physically. And I need to give myself a slap in the face and say “pick yourself up woman!”. Things to look forward to :
- In about 3 weeks after my last chemo, the effects of weird taste buds, acne and the tingling should start to reduce.
- About a month after chemo I think my hair will start to grow back. I hope it grows back silver – I think silver hair would be cool.
- After my summer holidays, I’ll embark on the final phase of my breast reconstruction. That’s why I need a few months to get fitter and stronger.
Oh I forgot to mention about the 2 month Long course of antibiotics I’ll have to take. But let’s leave it as it stands right now. I’m sitting here at the Tanglin club, and there is a buffet lunch starting soon. Buffets are great for me because I get to taste everything to see if anything works for these damn taste buds.
Huh. I’m not helping with the weight am I ????? Screw it. It’s my last week, let’s give these taste buds exactly what they want. And if they want cheesecake, then by God, I’m going to give it to them.
Mama’s coming guys! Hang in there!