Hiking Transitions

I have, after a nine-month “cancer vacation,” returned to work. I never had, before cancer, anxiety or considered myself to be an emotional person. My nature was easy going, happy.

I dealt with anxiety through the first tough chemo doses and radiation. I was finally starting to feel even keeled. I rarely needed the Xanax anymore or anything for sleep.  Every now and then though that anxiety monster creeps back in and I can’t hold the door to keep it from coming in.

I had my 13th chemo treatment July 25. I handled the last six treatments with no problems except fatigue afterwards. I went in with a book to read to keep myself entertained for 90 minutes. I joked with the chemo nurses. I was happy I wasn’t getting the heavy stuff anymore. But with this dose, the overwhelming idea that I needed to quit became pervasive in my mind. I am so over this cancer. Not counting my ear surgery appointments, at this point, I had 32 MD appointments and 102 procedures. 102!!! I wanted to quit. I really really wanted to quit.

Friends, family, the nurse practitioner, Katrina, all said, “But you are so close.” I know I am but I didn’t care. One friend did give me a sympathetic “ You must be so tired of it all”. Going into the appointment I had a list of questions. My B12 levels were low and we needed to discuss injections. I was still anemic. My white counts and neutrophils were still low. The first question on my list, but the last one I asked, was “Can I quit?” I burst into tears with that question. Katrina says, “You know I can’t tell you to do that. What do you want?” “I want you to tell me that it’s ok to quit. That studies say nine months of treatments is just as good as 12.” I hate it when I cry at the clinic. I feel defeated when anxiety and emotions get the better of me when I am trying to present myself intelligently.

I did more research after that appointment. Studies on Herceptin were done at six, 12, and 24 months, not nine. The odds of this damn thing returning are significantly reduced with 12 months, with no more benefit gained at 24 months. At least there’s that. Although I feel powerless, it would make no logical sense to quit when I have come this far. But emotions don’t play by logic.

And as aside, if I hear one more cancer peep tell me that I am “lucky” to get Herceptin, I’ll scream. Really? You of all people should get how hard it is to emotionally set yourself up for a treatment. While most are four or six treatments, mine is 17. I will make 17 fucking trips to the chemo clinic for intravenous treatments. Thanks for allowing me to rant.

With my latest treatment, the desire to quit was not as strong, but the emotional roller coaster geared up again and I found myself crying at a drop of a hat: a verse in a song, being in the moment watching butterflies with my cousin, writing this. UGH.

In my conversation with Katrina, she did say something that hit home, that I was in transition. I hadn’t heard or thought of that. I had been so focused, working hard just to get through the last ten months. That was who I was. Cancer patient. Wife. Mom. PCT hiker. Cancer is not my focus, or my first or last thought of the day anymore. It is nice to have more and more days that cancer isn’t discussed.

So I’ve been thinking about transitions. The physical transition of going back to work has been easier than I thought it would be. Yes, I am tired by the end of the day. I probably would have been without cancer. My fatigue again is different. It’s not so much feeling tired during the day as it is that I really sleep a lot at night to make up for it. I tend to power through the fatigue, denying it, instead of surrendering to it, like I probably should. But that just isn’t me. I do admit I feel frustrated that I am not doing the things I want to because I am just too tired, either physically or emotionally, to make it.

On an emotional level, it’s harder to describe. Being a cancer patient has been my identity the last ten months and it will be for ten more years. I look forward to shedding that identity. This anxiety may be related to fear of recurrence. I’m not so sure that’s the root. You get use to a lot of attention, it’s like I’m trying to remember what its like to be normal again. I know I’ll be ok. It’s honestly been less than a handful of times that I thought I might not make it through this bout. But it isn’t realistic that I won’t think about cancer coming back. Especially since “they” don’t know a prognosis percentage, due to aggressive factors like HER2+ and LCIS. I can’t focus on that. I can’t live my life in fear. I cannot worry about things that may never happen.

I was asked what my take away from all this was. I don’t know. I did not gain any spirituality or wisdom from this. Maybe later. I have three more treatments. And a couple more hikes planned, because the hike still remains my escape.

Patti (Glow in the Dark)
August 23, 2013

Tree BeforeTree after

My treatment tree, early on and now. Each flower represents a chemo treatment, each leaf a radiation treatment. Appointment cards are on the glass bottom vase. A picture of our dog, Cleo, victim of cancer herself, and me in our scarves. Behind the picture is a card of all my prescriptions. ID Bracelets are the procedures I had at the hospital.

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10 thoughts on “Hiking Transitions

  1. Ok, hear it goes. I hope you remember me, I’m UB’s friend, and guardian angel and he, is one of yours. I hear you loud and clear when you write…..I CAN’T LIVE MY LIFE IN FEAR AND I CANNOT WORRY ABOUT THINGS, THAT MAY NEVER HAPPEN.
    I can only speak for myself and how, I dealt with my first breast cancer treatment and the treatment, I am doing now with stage 4 BC METS. I did and continue to do, what I have to do. I became my own best advocate. I did this by opening my heart and listening to my gut and silencing that crazy maker in my mind that says “what if”. I looked at statistics and had such hope, with the first go around. I knew, I was going to make it. It was difficult and I can be difficult. My sassy side, just took over.
    When I had the 2nd diagnosis, I said hey, wait a minute, this wasn’t suppose to happen statistically. I learned that, the statistic gave me false hope and that, I was now feeling, like a statistic. The reality of the statistic, most people don’t make it, just devastated me. I worked my way through my feelings and I grieved hard and then, I realized. You know, what you know and you don’t know, what you don’t know, until you know it. I knew, that it was time for me to take care of me and the only way, that was going to happen, was to quit taking care of everyone else. It was crystal clear to me, that, I had to let go of, my beloved business or I was going to perish. In my spiritual practice I was constantly asking… What should I do? And I wasn’t getting any answers. I quit asking and decided to just be present, to what ever showed up, I finally let go, I knew. Everyone one said no, you can’t. And I said, I can and I am, I’m going to take care of me. I have been taking care of everyone and it’s my turn. No more ego, no more chatter, just really paying attention and listening to my gut, with an open heart. Guess what??? it’s a damn Christmas miracle, I’m still here, and after 3 years statistically, I’m not suppose to be. BUT HEAR I AM. I’ve met women that are still here after 7 years and 17 years. And I am a BAD ASS TRAIL ANGEL AND ALL OF MOTHER NATURE IS MY CHURCH. IT’S WHERE I GO TO NOURISH ME. I’m still caring for people, because that’s what I do. But there’s a difference. I don’t let the caring take anything AWAY from me and I continually fill myself up. I choose love and kindness for myself.
    You are in your process and your gut and your heart will continue to show up for you. WE CAN LIVE OUR LIVES, and in our humanness we will still worry.
    WE HAVE THE ABILITY TO BE GENTLE, LOVING AND KIND TO OURSELVES, LISTEN.
    I HEAR YOU, YOU MATTER.

    Brooke

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    • Brooke, thank you for opening up to me. I think it sucks you have to go thru this again and I am sorry to hear that. But I get your message. I need to stop looking at/thinking about numbers. Because its just as random as me getting cancer in the first place. I am learning to let my intuition lead. Thank you!

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  2. Patti Thank you for sharing the honesty — the frustrations. I do so wish I could take it away… make it all better. But I can’t. Just like I can’t make Perry his old self again. I just came from Cedar Rapids and he still has such a long way to go. Don’t know if he’ll ever be functional to the point of independence. We will take him to Ankeny, IA to the Brain Injury rehab on Wednesday. It has been 3 months since the stroke. He has been at a skilled care facility in Cedar Rapids and he could stay 3 months in Ankeny IF… IF… he is making progress. So far it has been minimal. Not sure if it is medical or psychological.So…. whining I am !!! Sometimes it is good to get that out. Sometimes life deals out a sucky hand. I praise you for hanging in there would it would be so easy to just say “F__ __ __ it !” You are making sure you increase your chances that this will be beaten !!!! And you are an inspiration to all who read the blog. It sucks — but you must power through it.And you will make it through. xo Love, Marie

    Date: Sat, 24 Aug 2013 03:13:57 +0000 To: mariewinder@msn.com

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    • I’m glad to hear that Perry is going to go to what sounds like a better rehab. The best therapy is what you get in the first few months.
      It has to be frustrating for the him and the family to see him like this. I hope Perry finds the strength to do well.
      And it’s ok to whine away… Really. We all need to and we can’t be positive all the time.
      I loved Eileen’s line when she was here last month, ” yeah, we could spending all our time on the couch AND be justified for it” but I’m glad that’s not me. And yeah, there’s some anxiety about returning to normal but I am much happier to be doing so.
      Much love to you and your family.

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  3. Patti, I am remembering you as the fun and funny girl who only one year ago sat at my kitchen table and we talked about normal things. then you went home to this news, I am praying for you, Thank you for sharing. You are an amazing woman. keep looking for “Happy”

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