Today is April 1st. And it was on an April 1st that I swallowed my own words.
I once knew a lot less about cancer and its treatment options. I’d often said “I would never get chemo if I get cancer. It’s poison!”
I saw people in my family suffer during chemo. In most cases, their cancers were caught late so they pretty much had to live on treatments until they no longer worked, or until their bodies could not handle them anymore. I didn’t like what chemo was doing to them. They turned into unrecognizable people – they were not the grandma or the aunt I knew, and that made me sad. I hated to see them go through so much pain and suffering only to barely hold on to existence – with no quality of life. I tried to convince myself that if I ever got diagnosed with cancer, I would refuse chemo because I didn’t want to look and feel like they did.
But it is true that you don’t know how you’ll react to situations until you go through the experience yourself. And this is so applicable to cancer. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was forced into learning more about the disease. I was also forced to consider all my treatment options if I wanted to live. And I did.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32, my doctors were very concerned. In many cases, cancer tends to be a little more aggressive in younger people. And mine was. My odds for survival were presented to me in a very matter-of-fact style – what would happen if I opted to receive treatments vs. not receiving treatments. My doctors told me I needed chemotherapy in order to lower my risks of reoccurrence and to help avoid a metastasis in case there were cancerous cells lingering in my body after surgery. Although my lymph nodes were clear, I did have lymphvascular invasion, which suggested some cells could have left their original site to travel to other parts of my body. My cancer was also invasive and, because cells aren’t visible, we had to take the safest route.
All that old talk of me not taking chemo never crossed my mind again. I didn’t think twice when doctors recommended chemo to me (both my first and second opinions recommended chemo) – in order to treat my cancer.
I was determined to live. I wanted to throw every weapon I could possibly throw at my cancer. I pictured myself dealing with a reoccurrence later on in my future and wondered how I would feel looking back at what I hadn’t done. I didn’t want to look back and wonder if I had made the right choice. I wanted to look back and say I did everything I could.
My first chemo treatment was on an April 1st. Oh how I wished it had been only April fool’s. But no one jokes about such things — except those people who fake their disease in order to get money or sympathy, but that’s for a different post.
Today I remember being in the chemo waiting room, waiting for my name to be called. I thought of those patients who waited with me — all in different stages — some in a lot more noticeable trouble than me. I wonder today how they are doing.
I didn’t want cancer to be my reality but eventually my name was called. I approached the entrance to the chemo room. The guy asked for my full name and date of birth, and then asked if I was ready. “Do I have a choice?,” I said. He smiled, but I did not. Eventually I got to my “chemo suite” — I didn’t even know these existed. I saw different types of pre-chemo medications hanging from the chemo pole. I sat on the recliner chair and waited for the nurse to administer the first chemo, which unfortunately was known as the red devil (Adriamycin). They could have used a gentler name for my first time. This day was the scariest of them all since I did not know what to expect. But I didn’t hesitate. For the first time, I viewed chemo as my ally.
In a way, I became attached to the chemo as I continued to get treated – I received a total of eight rounds with three chemo drugs. AC/T. I realized I had a love and hate relationship with it. I hated the fact that I needed this poison in order to live, and that there were no better options. At the same time I felt safer. I was doing something to destroy my cancer. I had to stay in that relationship.
The last day of my chemo was a July 8. I thought I would be happy and celebrating, but instead I felt nervous and scared. Now what?, I thought. I did not want to stop getting treated. But I felt grateful there was an ‘end date’ for my treatment. This isn’t the case for so many other patients – those who struggle with metastatic breast cancer.
Immediately after finishing chemo, I was prescribed Tamoxifen, the estrogen blocker pill to help keep my cancer at bay. I also have a love and hate relationship with that medication. I hate the side effects. There are times when I want to ‘break up’ with it, but I can’t. I want to continue doing what I can to help lower my risk of recurrence.
So, I stay in this relationship. My chemical romance continues.
Exactly! I totally agree.
At my oncologist’s office in Switzerland, they called it Campari. The nurse was surprised it was called Red Devil or Red Death in the US, and maybe other places too.
Gradually, I began to look forward to chemo – each treatment was one step closer to finishing, and it was something I could do.
I never liked the steroids though. A very necessary evil.
Thank you for posting this.
Oh boy! I haven’t heard ‘red death’ yet but I would have probably walked out of the chemo room if someone had called it that. I prefer Campari. The entire chemo experience seemed surreal to me, but as long as it did its job, it was worth it.
Thank you for reading and commenting on this post. xo
Rebecca, this brings back floods of memories for me. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I swore up and down I’d rather die than a) have an oncologist and b) have chemo. That’s how scared I was. It turns out I had both. By the way, I related to what you said about feeling sad after chemo ended. I felt the same way: I had a love-hate relationship with chemo. I hated it, but while I was on chemo, I felt safer. Once I was released into the post-treatment world, I was depressed while everyone I knew celebrated.
Beth, I think many of us fear chemo more than the actual cancer. I remember one doctor called it “a different type of antibiotics” to try to calm my nerves. Quite different I say. My sadness after finishing chemo also had to do with the fact that, by that time, I knew too much about BC. In a way I knew I wasn’t done with cancer and holding on to some treatment made me feel safer. I am sorry you had to go through this too, dear friend. xo
El tiempo pasa rápido. Siempre confiando en Dios
Siempre con fe. Un abrazo fuerte, Poly!
thanks for sharing your experience. I will never forget my first day either. When my name was called, I burst into tears, I felt so embarrassed. The nurses were like angels in the chemo ward. I was taken to a chair around the corner, almost on my own, where the nurse was able to stay with me to help me begin the next part of my journey. Chemo is the worst part of the cancer treatment but thru chemo I made some special friends and learnt so much, which I have been able to share with other ladies who have joined the journey.
Carolyn, It’s OK to feel emotional. cancer treatments are tough. I am sorry you’re dealing with this disease but I am glad you are doing well. I know what you mean about meeting great people during our most vulnerable time. I’ve made some wonderful friends. And the kind of support they provide is incomparable because they’ve walked the same path. It’s great not to feel alone. Stay well. xo
thank you. It’s so good not making the journey on my own 😊
I had a dance with the red devil myself 16 years ago when I was diagnosed with Non Hogkinsons Lymphoma.
The regime was :-
C = Cyclophosphamide
H = Doxorubicin Hydrochloride (also called Adriamycin)
O = Vincristine (also called Oncovin)
P = Prednisolone (a steroid)
It was crappy. But is saved my life and I got stronger and more resilient after the trauma of cancer. Being diagnosed a second time for cancer was a big shock to say the least but I am getter better about it as I am so thankful for the life saving drugs that are here for us today.
This time round chemo is much gentler and I am currently having Taxol weekly. For now Herceptin has been stopped until I get another echcocardiagram of my heart. I also had four cycles of Epirubicin and cyclophosphamide. I will begin radiation treatment afetr the chemo is finished and probably will be taking Tamaxifen. My breast cancer was found in a screening mammagram, each woman in Australia is screened over the age of 50 every two years. I had actually put it off a few months replying to my reminder letter for my second screening ( so nothing was picked up last time) and I had no lumps or symptoms. I keep telling every one to have their mammograms! I had Stage 3 DICU in my right breast. I have had a few surgeries including having my lymph nodes removed from under my arm and a wide local inscision. All my staging tests and scans before chemo do not show any mets so I am hopefull I will be ok. As far from a chemical romance like you I think we will be together with the drugs for a while longer yet however I am so encouraged by all the advances in medicine and I am encouraged by my oncologist who is also a cancer researcher when he says it is only a short time away that there will be no more chemo, it will be targeted immunotherapy. Big hugs to you Marian 🙂
Hi Marian, I am sorry you had to deal with TWO types of cancers, as if one wasn’t enough?
I am excited about the new developments on cancer research, specifically Immunotherapy. I just wish things could be moving a lot quicker. I have read some encouraging stories on cases of leukemia. Adriamycin deserves to be called the red devil. It just sucks! Taxol was one of my chemo regimens and I found it to be the easier one. Much easier. I hope you’re tolerating it OK. Herceptin is an amazing drug but I am aware of the side effects. All these side effects are scary.
I worry about the new guidelines for BC screening here in the U.S. It’s probably different in every country. And yes, it’s scary that there are usually no symptoms with cancer when it starts to develop. I had no symptoms with mine either but I felt my lump. I remember doctors were having a hard time feeling it. I had to guide their hands. That’s why it’s important for women to get to know their bodies (and not to listen to people who say you’re paranoid or too young to get cancer).
I wish you good luck with your treatments (this too shall pass). And thank you for reading and taking the time to comment on this post. Stay well. xo
I felt the same, I was afraid I was going to die!! I felt like chemo was going to same my life. I had four treatments of toxatere and cytoxian!! I handheld ok it was tough going thru it and I survived my last treatment was April 13 2015 Excatily a four months to the day of diagnose!!! It was a bittersweet day!! Walking out of there scared me to death it’s easier to be in active treatment for your mental state. I’m now on Lupron injection and arimedex!!! I know all to well about this chemical romance!!!
Congratulations on finishing chemo!! The experience is def. no picnic but it’s doable. Going on the Tamox right after finishing chemo gave me some sanity but it was still overwhelming and difficult to accept that there was no more chemo. Good luck with the Lupron injections and Arimidex! Hoping you get little to no side effects. xo
Rather than a romance, it feels like a forced marriage. Just saying.
Hahaha! Good one. There’s def. some truth to that. xo
I guess you know a thing or two about my chemo experience since you’ve read both my books. (Thank you again, btw). I was completely terrified by chemo. One thing that really became clear for me when writing my books, was just how afraid I was. In a way, it’s almost embarrassing. I did find out it was doable though, like you said. But what choice did we really have, right? I will never forget that chemo nurse who told me it was my choice to return each time. Yeah, right. Some choice. Thank you for sharing about your “chemical romance.” Good luck with your ongoing “relationship” with tamoxifen. Love Carrie’s comment up there. xx
Hi Nancy, I remember that comment your nurse made. It’s not like we really had a choice if we wanted to live (not that there are any guarantees either as we both know ). I hated the red devil so much I was ready to quit at some point or ask for something else. Like Carrie suggested above, cancer forces us into doing things we really don’t want to do. I’m glad we both came out of those treatments OK and I hope we never have to do it again. My wish is that no one has to. Thank you for the comment and the share. xo
I also said I would never do chemo, but of course when I was diagnosed, I accepted it as what I needed to do. My chemo nurse used to say, “Chemo is your friend, chemo is your friend…” like a mantra. I felt like saying: With friends like chemo, who needs enemies?
Eileen, there was a similar comment made to me by a nurse (not at my cancer hospital), but it was about my cancer, “if you have to live with cancer, you might as well make it your friend”. I am still thinking about that comment today. I even wrote about it. Maybe one day I’ll share. We need better treatment options for sure! Thank you for reading and commenting on this post.
We do what we have to do. And we’re still here. xoxo, Kathi
And I am so glad we are. xoxo