Cancerversary

What a roller coaster ride this past year has been! This time last year I was sitting in my primary care doctor’s office waiting for the results of my chest x-ray and CT scan, knowing in my heart it was cancer, just not the extent of it. I remember driving home and wondering how I was going to tell my partner. The very next day, I met my oncologist. Then came a whirlwind of tests and appointments to discuss the findings, and then my first chemo treatment, which was not kind to me. And I don’t know how many chemo treatments since then. And somehow, I continued working; sometimes just a couple of hours a day. But I mostly used that time to train so that someone would be able to take over my duties, and that allowed me to retire in February.

The time since then has been sometimes a blur and sometimes has had too much clarity. But I have made it to the one year mark; many don’t. I have lost count of how many cycles of chemo I have had, and how many times I have cried, and how many times there were little victories. What has kept me going through all of this is a positive attitude, and my support system of sister-friends, family, and people who don’t even know me who have taken up my cause in their churches and prayer circles. I am so thankful for all of you.

Oh, and I almost forgot; today is Day 1,000 of my Gratitude Journal Blog – how cool is that?

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Bump in the Road

My visit to the oncologist on Tuesday was a disappointment. My white count had tanked and my blood pressure was way high, so chemo is postponed for two weeks. I thought the high blood pressure was because of the Dexamethasone – it’s always high on infusion days – but my PA and the oncologist thought it was the Avastin. So I’m now checking my blood pressure a couple of times a day, and today it was back to my normal. I did get a shot of Neupogen to help with the white blood cell count, so by the time I have my next blood work (a week from Friday), the count should be back to normal and I should be able to get back on schedule for chemo the following Tuesday.

I have mixed feelings about the delay. I welcome the relief from side effects for a couple of weeks, but I’m also afraid that the tumors will grow during that time. Maybe that fear is irrational; I don’t know. I can’t control what’s going to happen, so I just have to trust that it won’t be too bad. In the meantime, I hope to use the extra energy I will have to take care of some of the things on my to-do-when-I-retire list, which seems to grow every day while very little gets crossed off.

Where there’s life, there’s hope. ūüėÄ

The Waiting Game

I have had no side effects from the Pemetrexed maintenance dose I received 3 weeks ago. That’s the good news. I don’t know if it’s working yet, but I am scheduled for a second dose on Tuesday after routine blood work. I’ve been feeling almost normal and have more energy and stamina than I have had since I first started chemo at the beginning of November. I’m hoping that the maintenance will keep my cancer in check for quite a while so we can enjoy our retirement. My hair is growing back – at least on my head. I don’t see any signs of eylashes or eyebrows growing yet; maybe it will just take a while.

We have been able to go on what I call photo safaris each week, and we’re running out of new places to go. Daytrips are all we can handle at the moment, and besides, neither of the dogs likes going anywhere; they are serious home bodies. Who would keep the elephants away if they weren’t here?

So now it’s just a matter of waiting again. But I am feeling much more optimistic, even though my last CEA level showed a slight increase. It went up less than a whole point, but that was before the maintenance began. So now I’m anxious to see where it is. I’m just going to have to be patient! Not an easy task these days.

Life Defined by Cancer

For the last week or so, I have woken up during the night with hiccups. I have no idea why. Last night was particularly bad, though, as I woke up every hour or so. But during one of those ‘awake’ moments, I had a realization; for the past four months, my life has been defined by my cancer.

Most of my waking moments have been spent dealing with things having to do with cancer; insurance companies, appointments, chemotherapy, chemo side effects, and on and on. Fatigue and other side effects have severely curtailed the activities I thought I would be enjoying in my retirement. I spend time reading blogs of other cancer patients; reading research papers; looking for more promising research. And I have decided that I’m sick of allowing cancer to define my life. I feel as if I’m waking up from a dazed existence that began with those fateful words, ‘you have cancer’, and have continued ever since. No more. I’m taking back my life – I should have done this a while ago but needed the realization of what’s happening to be able to redefine myself.

Cancer isn’t disappearing from my life any time soon. It will always be there in some form, even when I show no evidence of disease. Cancer is insidious and can reappear at any time, or spread somewhere else. What matters now is that I intend to enjoy life more and put cancer on the back burner for now. I will deal with it as I have to, but I no longer want it to define me; I will define it. I have to make some allowances for fatigue, chemo brain, nausea, etc., but I will no longer make them my focus. They are there and will be there for a while. My focus is now on me and my life and my activities. I’m outlining my days based on what I wanted to do for my retirement regardless of what else is going on. I will write. I will go out and take pictures. I will play with our dogs. I will spend time with my partner. I will work in the yard and enjoy my flowers – when I have them. I will define my own life.

 

Retirement

When I was young, very young, I never thought about retirement. I naively thought there would always be someone around to take care of me; parents, husband, children.

My father had a job, and my mother raised us kids, took care of the house, etc. My dad gave her money every week, housekeeping money, so she could buy food and whatever else was needed to keep the household running. We gradually moved up in the world, from my first memories living in a 2-room flat with no indoor plumbing, to a great big 4-bedroom 2-story  house. I had a younger brother, 5 years younger, who got whatever he wanted, just because he was a boy. I was destined to be a nurse, or a teacher, but only until I found a husband who would take care of me as my dad took care of my mom. Hence my belief that there would always be someone to take care of me.

Because I was a girl, I wasn’t supposed to be good at math, or science, or any ‘real world’ stuff, because after all, my future husband would deal with all that, right? Fortunately for me, my dad realized how smart I was and encouraged me to study and learn whatever I wanted, and he had to fight the school so that I could do that. But when I graduated from High School, I was on my own as far as education. Learning was fine for girls through High School, but only through High School, unless it was Nursing School or Teacher’s College. So I went to Nursing School.

So with this background, I had never learned how to manage money, plan for the future, or any of that stuff. When my father died, my mother didn’t even know how to write a check – she didn’t have to because my father took care of the finances.

The husband, and the kids, came and went. I learned a few things along the way. By the time I realized I was on my own, I was barely making ends meet with nothing extra to stash away for retirement. The dream of having someone to take care of me was just that, a dream. The reality is that the only person who can take care of me is…me.

I am facing retirement in a couple of years – or I can keep working until I die. I choose to retire. My partner and I have learned to reduce the income we need to make to live well. So things have turned out well for me. But there are many women out there who are not as fortunate as I am. They are the ones who were left to raise kids on their own; the ones who suddenly find themselves divorced; the ones who lost their jobs. Women in general lose out on almost half a million dollars over their lifetime in retirement money because of not working, or leaving to raise kids, or because they are paid 3/4 of what a man makes for the same job, or because they are in a ‘pink-collar’ profession.

Are you prepared for retirement?