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.

Links to the entire series about Patti’s battle with cancer listed below: