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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day Indeed!

Yesterday I finished chemotherapy! Every time I told someone I was finishing my treatment on July 3rd (Jonas's birthday...same day six years ago I immediately fell in love with the 2nd child I didn't think I wanted (life is full of surprises), the person would say, "Well that's a real independence day, huh?" Or "Independence day, indeed." No exaggeration. I'd just wait two or three beats and the person to whom I was speaking filled in the blank. So I named this blog for you, people!

While I'm not looking forward to the next 7 to 10 days as they will be tiring and everything except cream cheese will taste like crap, I do feel like singing right now- this song in particular:

In about four weeks, I should start feeling a bit more like my normal self. My hair will start growing back (I'm not sure I want it to, actually...It's easy being bald) and I will have to begin shaving all them parts I haven't had to shave in months. Interestingly, I did not lose my eyebrows or lashes, and my oncologist  says at this point I probably won't. My oncologist (who did I mention I adore? Dr. Natarajan at Lahey) also says I should really be feeling better in about six  weeks and that my voice should come back, just in time for my writing conference with Dinty Moore at the Vermont College of Fine Arts! (when I meet him I will find out if he was named after the soup. Unless someone knows and can clarify this for me...) Last year I almost went to this same conference but talked myself out of it because I was worried about money and feeling guilty about leaving my family for a week. This year, I have a second chance to go, with a little scholarship $ from the conference as well, and that's no longer something to snub one's nose at, eh?

Speaking of things I look forward to, here's the bucket list I made a few weeks ago:

  • See Billy Joel in concert. What can I say? I'm a native New Yorker. If he retires from concerts before I get to see him (as I read somewhere recently) , he's on my shit list. Actually he was on my shit list once before when I met him (stalked him) in the Hamptons and he didn't buy me chocolate when he had the opportunity, although I'm over it.  See pic. 
  • Travel more. Get to Israel already, the land for which I was supposedly named (Ami means 'my country' in Hebrew according to my dad) and where there are many relatives I have yet to meet. Money and fear have always been the issues. While money is simply a reality, fear doesn't have to be anymore if I don't let it.
  • Get a dog. Not immediately, but this must happen. I talked Ben into it recently, and then when he agreed, talked him out of it. For now. It's a responsibility I'm not yet ready to consider  with those other responsibilities called two boys...but soon, perhaps. Dogs really do make me happy when they are not shitting on the floor or begging to go out at 5am. Although maybe that would help with time management...
  • Get a handle on time management. Did you see that coming? I want to live a more fulfilling life moving forward - and set a better example for my kids. I want time to read more, and write more. -particularly the book I've been trying to write for 15 years, and all those unwritten essays. I want to be less stressed. I think a huge  part of this is better time management. So if you know a  time mgmt coach who can whip my ass into shape, let me know. A 2-for-1 deal with the hubby would be great.
  • Take piano lessons again. I quit when I was ten or eleven...right after my first recital where I played, what else? Billy Joel's Piano Man. This was right before my evil Jewish girl-gang days. Sigh. My apologies to anyone reading this who knew me then and thought I was a little jerk. I was.
I realize these are somewhat high aspirations and I may simply fall back into my old patterns, but one can hope. I also hope to never again take the simple gift of good health for granted. I don't want to forget how wonderful it is just to feel good today. For things to taste good. To enjoy a good cup of coffee. A good bowl of ice cream. To not feel so tired and sick you can't even sort a pile of laundry. Although maybe that's a perk...

A lot of friends have asked, what happens now? Are you done? Are you cured? No, I'm not done. This journey is kinda long. Surgery is done. Chemo is done. As soon as I return from the writing conference in mid-August, I start radiation every day Monday - Friday for six and a half weeks. I'm told radiation is typically a cakewalk compared to chemo. And although it's every day, it's about 15 minutes --you're in, you're out. After that I will start Tamoxifin, a pill. Estrogen therapy. And I will continue to get one drug called Herceptin intravenously every three weeks (I'd been getting it with my chemo drugs already) until next March--one year from when I started chemo. Fortunately herceptin is not a chemo drug, but a targeted therapy for the kind of cells identified in my biopsy and does not really have side effects. 

As for Are you cured? Who can say for sure. I was given chemo as what they call adjuvant therapy - there was no sign of cancer spread on my scans, so it was just in case. So technically, I should be "cured." My doctor uses the word cured, but she also says there are no guarantees. For the first year, I will have blood tests and scans about every 3-4 months to see how things look; to make sure nothing changes. 

People have called me brave during this process, which is nice to hear, but what else can you do? You just do it, ya know? I know some of you reading this have already lived this experience. Knowing you could be brave and survive inspired me to be brave as well. I hope everyone else reading this never has to go through cancer treatment, but if you do, here's what I recommend: 

Get yourself a great therapist with a wonderful sense of humor. Surround yourself with an incredible tribe of friends, acquaintances and supporters -- both online and in the real world. Let yourself be surprised by who rises to the occasion, and don't beat yourself up about who may not, for whatever reasons. Maybe someone will shave your head for you, or even walk in your honor this year in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk ( go Sara Sellitti)! In these ways, I've been blown away, and blessed. If you can, get yourself an awesome moldy green happy place blanket, and as many Will Ferrell movies as possible, and I just know you'll be OK.

Yes, I am capable of more than I ever thought possible. It wasn't that long ago when I was quivering in my boots about surgery and chemo. And now they are both behind me.

But I couldn't have done it without all your humor, love and support. Thank you thank you thank you let's all go celebrate Independence Day Indeed!