Chemotherapy: 100th Round

After the initial shock of my cancer diagnosis, I had no comprehension that I would have to undergo chemotherapy, nor did I understand the first thing about it. Of course I had a baseline grasp as to what it was. I knew that my Granddad went through it for three months; from the day he was diagnosed to the day that he passed away. I knew he was essentially getting poisoned, and that poison did not save his life. I was also aware of Hollywood’s version of chemo and how they manage to fit it into a square box with a pretty ribbon, unassuming of the various types of treatment within the umbrella of chemotherapy drugs. However, despite knowing those few, minute things that happens to be surrounded by lurking shadows of all things negative, I am now able to say that I am well versed as to what the depths of this poison means, today marking my 100th round of chemo.

Over the progression of my disease, I have had more than one type of chemotherapy in an attempt to get rid of the bastards. Some worse than others, but there was absolutely nothing worse than the beginning of my cancer career. To begin with, I was injected with one of the most lethal of the colon cancer chemotherapy varieties, and often times my platelets would be so low that I would have to have a shot, feeling as though every bone in my body was shattering to peices. There was also the neuropathy, which disabled the nerves in my hands and feet, disallowing me to walk or even write for that matter. Lets not forget to mention the initial distress of changes to my appearance, as a vain twenty-seven year old.  This all in addition to all of the other side affects synonymous with chemotherapy.  Yet, worst of it all was the mental toll, twisting my every thought down a spiraling rabbit hole; the fear, the anger, the resentment, and mourning the loss of my life, as I once knew it.

Altogether, I can reliably say that chemo is not for the faint of the heart. As I grieved for my good health firstly, I gradually began to put my best energies into a healthy frame of mind. I began looking at chemotherapy treatments as if it were my job, a new career in which I was going to have to show up and commit to as though my life depended on it…literally. In switching my approach to what I only knew as being undesirable, it kept my mental endurance alive, teaching me things about myself that I had never recognized before. Chemotherapy is the job, and the paycheck is the time I am granted to still be here with my family and friends.

Nevertheless I have my days of gloom, just last month feeling like I failed in 2017, accomplishing next to nothing.  It is also not lost on me that chemotherapy is not necessarily a cure, and I value the bravery and the grace of people who have undergone it, while it sadly no longer continues to keep the cancer manageable.  Then there are milestones like today, and I am reminded that I repeatedly show up for work, with a smile on my face, looking cancer straight in eye and laboring until the work is done.

Nobody knows what life has in store, and life is short, that is for sure.   With that, I am going to continue my stride and appreciate the brilliant minds and methods that is keeping me here today, tomorrow and hopefully the next.

Cheers to you, 100!!!

PS- totally and shamelessly bought myself these roses in celebration.

Love,

Britt x

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The Many Faces of Cancer: Soul Over Ego

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Cancer and I have an interesting relationship, constantly playing tug of war over this body and the life I was blessed with. The perpetual balancing on egg shells as evil has made a home out of my insides, leaves me to feel as though my own flesh and bones no longer belong to me. On a day to day basis I find myself living under caution tape due to the illness that comes with chemotherapy, as well as side effects of medications. This naturally leaves me drained of everything I have to give.

There are many faces and personalities that come along with cancer. By looking at the curated aesthetic of my Insta’, 90% of the photographs would seem to showcase to the world that I am a “normal, healthy” looking woman, with a fairly active life to boot. Although that is true, I try to keep myself up and face the darkness, I’ve found that I have gotten away from showing how quickly I can become utterly debilitated. It’s truly amazing how one minute I am a bright, lively person and then in an instant I don’t recognize myself, nor this life.

You’d think after four years of living and fighting cancer, reality would have settled in. After all this time it would start to make sense, it wouldn’t still shock me or feel like a nightmare. But the truth is, it never makes sense. And sometimes when something doesn’t make sense, I feel everything so deeply. Conversely it can also be difficult to feel almost anything at all, until it dawns on me all over again that I could have never imagined one day waking up sick and never getting better.

Since my fourth bout of chemotherapy started up again in June, I am now six treatments in. The second week of September I have a CT and PET scan to determine if chemotherapy is working on my numerous tumors throughout my abdominal region and liver. This time around I am a bit more nervous than usual, being that it’s my first scan since the evidence of disease reappeared rapidly following my HIPEC operation. Demons take control of my mind pre-scan thinking of all of the possibilities, particularly because I’ve been having a rough go at it. In spite of all that, I wear strength and darkness equally well and it will be nice to know where I stand against the enemy.

On occasion it’s rather difficult not to have a pity party of one, especially when you are witnessing from the sidelines the progression of other people’s lives — i.e. babies being born, career accomplishments and general life goals. Whereas for the last few years, my main goal has been survival, which becomes a full time job. Comparison as they say, is the thief of joy, but the trouble is I am living in the thought of tomorrow. I’m not living now, I’m waiting.

Keeping pretty quiet this summer, I’ve spent most of my days with my head in the toilet or lounging around the house, thus leaving the path that I travel feeling isolated and unfair. Then I try to remind myself that whoever our maker may be, perhaps using both my good and bad experiences is meant to develop my character. A refined character.

Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown in an effort for an unbelievable breakthrough. My body is broken down and I’m still waiting for that break through. Nonetheless I will press on, knowing that I have wonderful family and friends that steady me, as they are my gravity. It remains comforting to me that some of the most extraordinary people are those who have faced defeat, struggle, pain and suffering. Trusting life will only give me what I can handle, I’ll continue to believe this experience is most helpful to my evolution and remind myself that it’s always soul over ego.

PS- Always be kind to people, you never know what they are going through — even if they are dolled up, lookin’ healthy! One of the many lessons I’ve learned from this cancer journey.

Love,

Britt x

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Hello, From the Other Side:

 

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The best thing about life is that everyday is a new opportunity.  As cliché as that may sound, it rings true.  Many of you know that on December 12, 2016, I underwent a rare procedure called HIPEC in an effort to provide myself with a greater opportunity to live.

There were many risks involved in having this operation, but without risk comes little reward.  I had to take that leap of faith in order to provide myself with more time and quality at that.  No doubt I had my reservations and up until the night before I was having serious second thoughts.

I’m signing up to be cut in half.”

 “Can I even endure this again, will my body be able to handle another major operation for the third time in three years?” I asked myself. My mind would not and could not stop operating on all cylinders.

Saturday, December 10 I had just been out with my Mum for a lovely day of brunch and pedicures.  It was special, quality, time before I was going to go into the hospital in just two short days.  After our pleasant day she dropped me off and Steve was at his parents house.  I lay on my bed as I was pretty worn out from the whole day and was going to try to catch a nap, when suddenly something came over me and I began thinking about the last few weeks prior and how I’d spent time with the people I love most; quality one on one time.  Were those my goodbyes?  I immediately began to shiver, my lips turned blue, my breathing became increasingly difficult and my body tense.  I thought I was dying right then and there.

As quickly as I could I called my Nan and word travelled fast.  She along with my Mum and Auntie Bev were on their way, as well as one of my very best friends, Allison.  Steve, too immediately left his parents.  No one truly knew what the situation was but knew in any case I needed immediate attention as my normally ever so strong brick walls had come crashing in on me.

Once they had arrived, I was clearly still very much alive but also in a state of panic and still freezing and stiff. They comforted me and Allison even called her brother with whom is an ER Doctor to get some medical advice on what they should do since I was refusing to go to the hospital.  If it actually was my time, I wanted it to be in my own home, not the cold hospital.  Her kind brother suggested that I meet everyone halfway and allow the paramedics to come and assess the situation and I obliged, particularly because those were Steve’s wishes as well.

Long story short, there were about five paramedics that came and determined I was having a forceful anxiety attack and low and behold my walls did cave in on me.  After awhile I calmed down and I was so grateful to have them by my side.  And I was happy that it happened when it did and not the morning of the surgery. For some reason I believe that, that freak out needed to happen in order for me to actually go through with the surgery, for me to know that everything was going to turn out okay in the end.

It was now time to be the queen I know I can be.  It was Monday and it was show time.  I rolled into that operating room feeling free of anxiety or fear, but instead excited for what was on the other side, post operation, despite the brutal recovery.

The Doctors practiced their magic and before I knew it, I woke up in the intermediate care unit.  I felt fabulous as the drugs from the operation were still in my system, even making a video of the news that had been shared with me that I was “CANCER FREE!” It felt so good to say those words, even if I was in la-la-land.

However, as the course of my stay at the hospital got longer and longer, the Doctors became less and less liberal with that word.  In turn leaving me to wonder what any of it really meant, even having it reiterated today at my follow-up visit with my surgeon now that I’m completely clear headed.  Where do I go from here and am I free of cancer?

The truth is, I’ve won the battle but not the war.  By having this surgery they have removed any and all signs of tumor that currently exists in my body, by cutting me open to remove them, scraping my insides and attacking with chemotherapy.  Therefore at this time I’m free of cancer.  However, I still remain a Stage IV cancer patient as I have had recurrences in the past, ones which have recurred rather quickly I might add, so I am considered a VERY HIGH RISK patient.  My cancer could come back tomorrow, next month or two years from now.  The moral of the story is I will be under surveillance non-stop by my Oncologist and looked after by the pros.  Naturally we all are hoping for the best-case scenario, but he kept it real with me, which I appreciate.

In the meantime, I’ve been home for the last week and a half recovering and it’s going well.  Slowly but surely I’m getting back to my old self.  I cannot express the gratitude I have for all of the love I’ve received leading up to the surgery, during and after.  It truly warms the cockles of my heart.  Now we are just trying to get through the holidays and get back into our routine.  When things get too routine, I just need to keep myself humble and remember that everyday is a new opportunity.

Happy New Year, my loves.

Love,

Britt x

#3 Cancerversary Q & A:

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Q: What makes you smile these days?

A: Family. I’ve been getting a lot of family time in lately, both on my side and Steve’s side and it brings the biggest smile to my face. It’s so important and it literally makes my heart beam with happiness. Also, Zoila my little sausage dog – when she’s not being naughty and chewing up my adidas shoes!

Q: Did you learn anything in your third year of battling cancer?

A: Of course. It was such a journey this year for me. I learned how to be humble and forgive and be forgiving. It could be very easy for me to be angry and bitter over what my body has had to endure, but I am choosing to accept that this is what was meant to happen to me, accept my journey and move on from it. The hardest part is knowing that I’ll never be able to give Steve a biological child. However he is so forgiving of that and for that I am the luckiest.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment in the last year?

A: This year has been full of many ups and downs. I’d say the most memorable would be bringing Zoila home for the first time. For Steve and I it was the equivalent to bringing home our baby. Something we’ll most likely never have the opportunity of knowing what that feels like, but when we brought her home we were both on cloud nine. On another note, finding out that I had 5-11 months to live and when Steve and I were given the news we went straight to the casino. We try to live life for the moment and not let things get us down. He’s my hero for that.

Q: What have you done to make your life less stressful?

A: I’ve stuck to my zero bullshit tolerance. I often walk on such a fine line of being content and depressed and in order to remain on the positive side of things I’ve learned that I need to protect myself. It’s a challenge.

Q: Are you carrying any excess baggage into your fourth year as a cancer patient?

A: Yes, I’m still trying to find my motivation. I’d say I have lost it some where along the way – I’m not sure where or how but I’m trying to find it again. It’s a tricky thing. For so many years I had so many goals to work towards and then when cancer came along my sole goal was survival, staying alive and everything else ceased to exist. This year I need to find myself again, refocus on what makes me tick and what makes me happy.

Q: Is there anyone that deserves a big “THANK YOU”?

A: Dr. Galliano – my surgeon that removed the basketball tumor from my uterus and performed my hysterectomy. Without that man I wouldn’t be here writing this today. HE’S the reason I am ALIVE and also the reason I switched over to Mayo Clinic. In his words he told Steve, “If she were my wife, she’d be going to Mayo Clinic.” And the rest is history. Because of the switch, my tumor markers are now at 3.8 which is the lowest they have EVER been since I have been diagnosed with Colon Cancer and they have my chemo down to an absolute science, allowing me to have a quality of life. Also, anyone out there, family, friends, supporters who are there cheering me on – I so appreciate you more than you know, so thank you! xx

Q: What are your top three goals for the next year?

A: Continue to stay in a good frame, a positive frame of mind. It’s mind over matter after all. Travel a bit here and there. And get my groove back in terms of motivation proclamation.

Q: What has the biggest lesson been so far with having cancer?

A: From pain, comes beautiful lessons and from beautiful lessons comes peace.

Q: What are your fears?

A: The same as always, letting fear win. Once fear enters the mind, it takes over the body and I can’t afford to let that happen.

Q: What have you struggled with in the last year that you want to change?

A: Again going back to setting goals for myself and sticking with them. Action follows focus.

Q: What can you do today that you were not capable of a year ago?

A: I can do more. A year ago when I was on chemo I would be bedridden. Now I have a quality of life, I can be 30 and go out with my friends and family and live the life that I have with enjoyment!

Q: What word best describes the way you’ve spent the last year of your life?

A: Survival.

Q: In one year from today, how do you think your life will be different?

A: Hopefully my cancer will still be in a manageable place, where I can continue to have a quality of life. Second to that, I hope to get published and see the book lined on shelves for everyone to read. High hopes, always!

Q: What have you learned about yourself in the last three years that you have been a cancer patient?

A: I’m a survivor – that’s for damn sure!

Q: What is one thing right now that you are totally sure of?

A: That life and people are so precious – never take anything or anyone for granted.

Q: What question do you often ask yourself?

A: What is this life?

Q: Time or money?

A: Time. It’s such a strange concept to me.

Q: What is your wish for the next year of your life?

A: Peace, always.

Lets Talk About Sex:

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At thirty I should be in my sexual prime – rejoicing in my Scorpio traits and thinking of sex more often than not. Instead, sex is an after thought as I am too busy sticking my head in the freezer from the hot flashes, taking my daily dose of crazy pills and slapping on a menopausal patch every other week to keep my estrogen levels at bay.

The early stages of my diagnoses no one explained that cancer and sex go hand in hand, against each other that is. Particularly when you throw in a full-blown hysterectomy, chemotherapy, twenty different medications on a daily basis and menopause. First things first, I’d like to take a moment to state that I find my husband extremely attractive and I love everything about him. He deserves a medal for his patience and understanding while I figure out what my body is going through and my sexual stance, or rather my libido’s attitude given all of its defiance to cancer.

It is both frustrating and isolating to have the body of a thirty year old and on the inside something more like an eighty year old. My husband has never wavered on making me feel like a sexy goddess, even with my buzzed haircut, battle scars and weak body. His touch leaves sparks and his kiss lights off fireworks, yet my libido is still not incommunicado.

In speaking with my Gynecologist, she informed me that there is not any FDA approved medications out there for women, particularly who have a history of cancer that could increase sex drive. Nada, nil, nothin’. What’s a girl to do? The intimacy between my husband and I is an important element in our relationship. Granted it is not the only variable that makes us, us, but I for one miss it and I sure as hell know he must. He’s a saint for Christ sake.

My question is, why is there not a bigger conversation out there for young adults, young women whom are going through such a thing? Why isn’t cancer and sex in the same vocabulary? Cancer isn’t a death sentence and therefore your sex life shouldn’t follow suit.

Understandably this is an uncomfortable subject, but it’s the real deal. I am not ready to give up a consistent, pleasurable sex life and have it die off in the name of cancer. There has got to be a resolution to this problem and I am going to find it, so help me God. Lets get the conversation going, lets figure out a way for cancer patients and survivors alike to be able to have a quality of life, including pleasure. Lets talk about sex.

Love,

Britt xx