Saturday, March 18, 2017

Presents for me and the importance of having a happy place

I'm someone who does well when I feel ready and prepared.  Having outstanding to-do's gives me stress.  So with the decision made about chemo, I went on a shopping trip this morning at Amazon.

I'm giving two chemo hats a try, knowing I can return them so easily if they don't work (love you, Amazon):

Next on the list was something I've wanted for a long time:  A waterproof iPod for the pool and spa.  I need to pick up my long lost practice of meditation, which I mostly did in the morning when I swam.  It's hard to get the voices out of my head, though, so I'm going to give this a try.  I intend to fill it with quiet meditation music.

Quite a few swimmers use these, though they always seem to have to mess with the ear buds while swimming.  If that's a problem for me, I still plan to use this after my work-out while relaxing in the spa.  It is a great way to start the day.

And then I'm going back to yoga.  I took a class at my gym when I was 30 lbs lighter.  I loved the strength, flexibility and feeling of accomplishment I had when finishing the class.  But it was WAY too challenging for me to keep up.  My back constantly ached.  Even with the modified poses the instructor offered, it was an aggressive routine that even the thin, experienced people in the class said was challenging.  So I bought two yoga DVDs directed at older, larger women.  I'm not sure when I'll have the time for them, but this is supposed to be the point of doing less cooking and hiring a cleaning lady.  I must remind myself that I should fill that spare time with rest and things like this.

And lastly, I picked up an Animal Crossing Amiibo set for $6.00.  What is an Animal Crossing Amiibo?  I HAVE NO IDEA!  But I'm playing this Nintendo game on my son's DS XL and from what I understand, I can do more things in the game if I buy and scan some Amiibo cards.

For me, having a "happy place" to go has been a very big saving grace.  Animal Crossing is a video game that I used to play with my son when he was young.  It's not a racing or timed-type game, as those stress me out.  Think Sims with animals for neighbors.  It runs in real time (yesterday was really St. Patrick's Day in the game), and you just wander around, catch some fish, dig for treasures, complete little tasks, or play easy little games to make money to buy stuff for your house and your town.

It's not a thinking game, for when I'm too tired for Words With Friends or other strategy games I'm fond of.  It's a completely simple little activity that allows me to decompress, and most importantly, step away from reality.

I've found since going through this stressful period, I have less tolerance for Facebook, as you never know what is going to hit you on your news feed.  People often share very depressing things and you can't control the content.  Television is the same, commercials make me hungry, news blips can get my blood boiling.  Even a good book requires conflict in order to make a good story.  And when going through cancer treatment, there are times I don't want any of it.  So my favorite activity at the end of the day has become sipping a mug of bedtime tea, eating 2 oz of yummy dark chocolate, and  sitting with my husband while he's watching sports and I bury myself in this little cartoon land where everyone is happy, no one is sick or dies, and no one struggles to get through the day.

If you are reading this for yourself or for a loved one who is going through something like this, I HIGHLY recommend thinking up an activity like this.  Maybe adult coloring books would be another option, or learning how to knit.  Something that doesn't require thinking too hard but is relaxing to do.  For me, it's Animal Crossing, and I am looking forward to seeing what the heck these Amiibo cards are.

A Breast Cancer Journey

Three days before Christmas, I get the call from my doctor.  She says, "I got the results of your biopsy."  There's a long pause then a sigh and then she says the phrase I'll never forget.  "Are you sitting down?"

Needless to say, it ruined our holidays, but we insisted on remaining positive and not worrying until someone gave us something to worry about.

Fast forward 11 weeks.  I sailed through my lumpectomy, or what they call a partial mastectomy.  I took 2 weeks off of work for that, which was plenty, and while my body is healing nicely, this is basically just the first course in what will be a long meal of recovery.

The next course of treatment would be based on my Oncotype score, where they test the mass that was removed during surgery and predict a recurrence.  It took 4 weeks from the date of my surgery to the day I got my score, and it was one of the most stressful times of my life, I won't lie.

And the news wasn't good. 

My score was 27, which isn't an automatic "Yes" for chemotherapy.  But these factors matter:

  • I'm "young" by BC standards at the age of 55.
  • I have no other real health issues that would be jeopardized by chemotherapy.
  • I'm clinically obese with a BMI of 39 that puts me in an even higher risk of recurrence.
  • I'm close to post-menopause which increases the risk of recurrence even more if you are also obese

Add those things together and I have to concede to doing whatever I can to keep from never being in this place again.  So I am facing chemotherapy, followed by radiation, followed by hormone therapy.  A triple-whammy.

And I am terrified.

I'm a researcher by nature.  Give me a challenge and I hit the internet on high speed looking up everything I can to educate myself.  There is an abundance of information out there, but it also comes with an abundance of horror stories.  You can literally convince yourself that today is the last day you will ever feel healthy if you read too many forums and articles.  I need to stop reading forums and articles.  So instead, I've decided to revive my garden blog and start a section that dialogues what will be a 12-month (or more) battle with breast cancer.

For anyone in the know, here are my specifics:

Dx 12/22/2016, IDC, Left, <1cm, Stage IA, Grade 2, 0/1 nodes, ER+/PR-, HER2-  
Surgery 2/13/2017 Lumpectomy: Left  
Chemotherapy Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Taxotere (docetaxel) 
Radiation Therapy Whole-breast: Breast 
Hormonal Therapy  Unclear right now.

Through this, I have these goals:

Try to stay sharp and keep working through treatment.  My job is important to me.  I'm the primary income in my household, and if this treatment renders me incapable of working in my field, puts me on long-term disability or something of the like, we lose our house and all the things you see on this garden blog.  The likelihood of that happening is small, but.....when you read too many forums.....

Get going on a solid exercise routine, and keep up as much of it as I can through this process.  From everything I've read and been told by my oncologist, this is the greatest predictor of how well I will be responding to treatment, fighting fatigue, minimizing side effects, and healing as rapidly as possible.  This won't be easy for me.  I loathe exercise, and give me any ailment as an excuse, I will opt for the couch.  This will be extremely hard, I'm already preparing for that, but I'm going to try.

Try not to gain weight, and if possible, lose weight.  Like I said, my BMI is 39.  There HAS to be a silver lining in everything I will be going through.  I have a goal of losing 60 pounds, and I know that will be laughable to some people reading this.  I may look back on this and think, "What an ignorant fool I was."  But I've got to try.  I can't end up part of the 300 club through this.  If I do, there will be absolutely nothing positive coming out of this experience.  At least, that's the way I feel right now.  I eat to comfort, I eat to celebrate, to stimulate and to calm.  Pretty much every point on the emotional scale I have a food for.  This challenge already feels daunting and I haven't even started.  But lets see where this goes.

Stay as healthy as I can through this.  Before this, I was blessed with a great immune system.  Especially after I started swimming 5 years ago, I can literally be surrounded by colds and flus and never catch it.  From what I read, those days are probably over, and possibly permanently read those dreaded forums.....  So losing weight, exercise, eating right are going to be a big deal.  I once wished that I had the right motivation to whip myself in shape.  (Note to self:  Never wish for shit like that again.)  But I wished nonetheless.  So here is my motivation.  What will I do with it?

So here we go on this journey.  I got the call from my oncologist yesterday that chemo was in my future.  My husband and I meet her on Monday to talk in person and get more information.  I've spent the last 36 hours looking up everything I can about my treatment and have a 3-page typed-up list of questions and topics I want to discuss, as well as my calendar.  In case you haven't guessed, I'm slightly OCD.  So today and tomorrow will be about setting all this aside for a while and just enjoying life and getting in shape.  I'm off to the gym to start putting my money where my mouth is.

Until next time.