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.