The most awkward part of my new look is having to respond when other people comment on it. In the past week alone, at least a dozen strangers have told me that they like my haircut. I have to decide pretty quickly if I am just going to smile and say thank you or if I want to explain the backstory of my short hair. I have responded in both ways depending on how much time I want to devote to a conversation with a stranger. It is nice that my hair has grown enough that it looks intentional, but it has made me think about times where I may have made comments to others that could have been insensitive to something that they were going through. 

I was put to the test this week when the mom of a former student, who obviously does not know that I have cancer, pointed out that my hair is short only to say that she, “liked it better before.” I could have snapped something like, “Well I just went through 14 rounds of chemotherapy and didn’t really have much choice” and gloated at her embarrassment, but what is the purpose in that? She OBVIOUSLY does not have any clue about the reason for my short hair. 

I have learned that it is in my best interest to assume that everyone has only good intentions. When people ask about my diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, hair style etc. there are so many opportunities for people to say the wrong thing. (And let’s be honest, what I think is right or wrong changes depending on my mood.) It is important for my own mental health to assume that every comment is coming from a good place. I cannot control what other people say, but I can control how I choose to let it make me feel. Throughout all of this, there have been so many situations where someone else’s words could have taken me to a dark place. Most of the time, I am able to take my own advice and not let other people’s words have an effect on me, sometimes I am not as strong as I would like to be and that is okay. 

I encourage everyone to ask me anything and I am always willing to share every unpleasant detail about what I am going through. With that, I open myself up to having conversations that may be upsetting and uncomfortable. I have chosen to be extremely open about everything that I am going through because I hope that it will encourage others to be proactive about their health and to show others who are in my situation that dealing with cancer doesn’t mean that your normal life has to stop. With the exception of an errant rude remark, it has served me well to believe that every question or comment is coming from a place of positivity, curiosity, and support. The best comment I’ve heard is that I’ll make a great Eleven from Stranger Things on Halloween 🙂

Owning my new look… kinda

By far, the hardest part of this entire cancer thing has been the changes to my physical appearance. Although I haven’t had any major emotional breakdowns, losing my hair really has been challenging. While I have almost gotten used to my new look, I still struggle when I’m getting ready to go out. I look in the mirror and it just feels like something is missing. I am happy that I have stopped wearing my wig, but I don’t love what I see when I look in the mirror. 

The only positive side effect of my super short hair is how quickly I am able to get ready. I used to plan my week around my blowout and now I can shower and be ready in minutes. Still, I would choose my worst hair day over my new cropped look.

On top of the hair loss, I have gained a decent amount of weight to the point where a lot of my clothes no longer fit. My doctors keep assuring me that the weight will be easy to lose once all of the drugs are out of my system, but I’m wary. 

There are a couple of different ways that I can choose to deal with this. I can fall apart, not leave the house and feel bad for myself OR I could own it. I think that I am somewhere in the middle. I try to be kind to myself and recognize that my body has been through a lot over these last few months. Dieting or pushing myself to lose weight should not be on my radar right now. I try to focus on making healthy choices and doing whatever is in my power to keep my body strong as I move into the next phase of my treatment. It is hard to not feel confident in my body, but this is (hopefully) temporary.

This all stems back to being mindful of what is in my control and what is not. I cannot dwell on things that are beyond my control. My weight gain and hair loss are not something that I have the power to change right now, so it does not do me any good to waste my thoughts on being unhappy about it. Admittedly, I am not able to do this 100% of the time, but when I do find myself letting my mind wander to an unhealthy place, I am able to rein myself back in pretty quickly. It is not about ignoring the negative thoughts and blocking them out, but instead, allowing myself to recognize my feelings without giving them the power to change my attitude. I think that has been the key to “staying strong” throughout all of this and hope that I am able to keep this up. 

Taxol 10, The Final One

The Final Treatment Day, 9/24

Today was my final Tuesday morning walk to NYU. Yes, I’m sure I’ll be back here many times over the next couple of months, but my Tuesday morning walk to chemo has become something of a ritual. I listen to my podcasts, pick up my breakfast and stroll up Third Avenue. I’ve gotten used to the butterfly, holding-my-breath feeling of waiting for my blood work to come back and may even miss the relief I feel when I hear that I am cleared for treatment. 

Today there is a feeling of excitement when my oncologist and nurse practitioner walk into the exam room. We discuss the next steps after today’s treatment and she congratulates me on powering through the chemotherapy part of my treatment. My nurse Stacy tells me that when my treatment is finished, I will get to ring the bell to signal that I am finished with chemo. 

I get hooked up to the IV and ice my hands and feet for the last time. Usually the Taxol hour flies by but today, time seems to move slowly. I am anxious to be finished. Finally, Matt and I hear the familiar beep, beep that the infusion is finished. I start to smile nervously. Stacy disconnects me from the machine and we walk over to the bell. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to feel in this moment but as I start to read the poem next to the bell, I start to cry. 

“Ring this bell, three times well
Its toll will clearly say
My treatments done
This course has run and
Now I’m on my way”

14 treatments (and many delays) later, I’m finished. It sounds strange, but I am going to miss Tuesdays. The whole routine of getting chemo became so ordinary. I am going to miss every person who became such a familiar face during this process. It will be strange to not see these people anymore. 

Now that chemo is over, the next stage of my treatment is surgery. I will have a bilateral mastectomy on October 21st. The pathology report from surgery will determine if I will need any further treatments, though my doctors are pretty sure that won’t be necessary.

Though getting through this was not always easy, I am SO LUCKY to have had such amazing support to help get my to this finish line. I am so grateful to every person who sat with me during my treatments, sent a text to check-in, a meal or flowers. I really cannot express how much the support has meant to me.

Taxol 9, Part 3

Day 1, Treatment Day (Tuesday, 9/17): After my delay last week I was given a shot to help boost my counts. I went back to NYU on Friday for a blood test and was happy to hear that my neutrophil count was up to 3.2 and that I would not need another shot. Everyone was confident that I would be cleared for my next treatment. 

Well, this morning I came for my blood test, feeling 100% confident that my counts would be fine (as usual), only to find out that my neutrophils had dropped to 1.2. I was cleared for my treatment, but just barely. In order to make sure that I would be cleared for my final treatment next week I will have to get 3 shots this week to help keep my counts up. 

This was my 9th Taxol and 4th (and final) Carboplatin. It has been almost a month since my last time getting both drugs and I forgot how long it takes. Thankfully, even though Matt was traveling, my friends came to keep me company. 

After chemo, I walked home and took a long nap. I woke up feeling really groggy, went to acupuncture, got the boys to bed, and had dinner with my brother. I was feeling really off. I was tired but I had a hard time falling asleep and was feeling a bit nauseous. I haven’t felt like that in a long time.

Day 2: After a rough night, Aidan woke up at 5:30am ready to start his day (yay!). I was not feeling great but I managed to feed the boys breakfast and get them dressed. By the time my nanny arrived at 8am, I was anxious to get right back in bed and go to sleep. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to rest, as I needed to go back to NYU at 10am to get a shot. After getting my shot, I spent the rest of the day in bed.

Day 3: Aidan had a rough night and ended up coming into bed with us at about 12:30am. While Matt woke up saying, “That wasn’t so horrible” while I spent the night attached to a 3.5 year old who couldn’t get closer to me.

Today is Cooper’s 2nd birthday and if it wasn’t for our tradition of singing Happy Birthday and throwing balloons in the crib, I would have told Matt to handle the boys and rolled right over and gone back to sleep. BUT, my baby is 2, so we took the boys to the diner and sang happy birthday with a candle in a stack of pancakes. Then, we took the boys to school, I went to get my shot, treated myself to Cafe Panna and got right back into bed for a looooong nap. Thankfully, I set my alarm or I would have slept right through my acupuncture appointment.

Day 4: Another day at NYU to have my blood counts checked. Thankfully, my counts were high enough that I did not need to get a third shot. I spent the rest of the day relaxing. We have a busy weekend ahead of Wisconsin vs. Michigan football, birthday parties and a bridal shower.

Chemo Update: It has been a while since I had the combination of the two drugs and I forgot how much the Taxol/Carbo combo knocks me out. Feeling relieved that this is my last time having to power through this as it really makes me feel tired and foggy.
Only 1 more treatment to go!

Taxol 9, Part 1 & 2

Part 1 (9/3/19)

Another delay. 

I walked into NYU feeling soooo confident. My blood counts were high the week before, I felt great, my cough was gone, I was positive that I would be cleared for treatment. While meeting with my doctors she told me that my neutrophil count was down to 0.9 and I would not be able to get treated. I was shocked. I asked how it was possible for it to drop from 1.5 to 0.9 in one week. She explained that my counts were only high last week because body was fighting off the cough. Once my white blood cells were finished doing their job, they plummeted. It made sense but I was still annoyed.

My grandma had come into the city to sit with me during chemo so instead of watching me sit in a chair, we went out for lunch.  We had a nice time together but I spent the rest of the afternoon sulking about my treatment delay.

Part 1.5 (9/9/19)

Once chemotherapy is completed, I will have a bilateral mastectomy. Today, I met with my breast surgeon, Deborah Axelrod, to schedule the surgery. I still have a few more weeks of treatment and then my body will need a few weeks to recover from chemo. The surgery is set for Monday, October 21st.

During the breast exam, my doctor was very pleased that she could not feel anything suspicious. I used to be able to feel my tumor easily and could even see it poking out of my breast. Now, my doctors have every reason to believe that it is completely gone. Though we already determined that I would be having a mastectomy, we discussed all other surgical options. Given that my tumor has responded so well to treatments, I would have been a good candidate for a lumpectomy, if not for my BRCA status. Because my chances of recurrence are higher than the general population, it makes sense to remove the whole breast. I am totally fine with this decision.

Part 2 (9/10/19)

After my delay last week I was more confident than ever that I would be treated. I have never had a delay two weeks in a row so I thought that there was no possible way that my counts wouldn’t rebound after taking a week off. Well, you learn something new every day. My counts were super low (0.7) and my treatment was being held again. I immediately started sobbing. These back-to-back delays have been super disappointing and stressful. With each treatment I feel like I am getting closer to the finish line and each delay makes me take a step back. 

I immediately had a million questions, Why aren’t my counts getting higher? What does this mean for my timeline? Will I have to reschedule my surgery? As I grabbed a pile of tissues, my oncologist walked in the room and said, “no more crying! I already wrote it my notes that we may only do 10 treatments instead of 12.” I asked if I would have to reschedule my surgery and she said “absolutely not, we will work around it.” We discussed the reasons for reducing my total number of treatments from 12 to 10 and any long term implications that may have. She assured me that there is no reason to be concerned about only completing 10 treatments. I was relieved. 

My doctor gave me a shot to help boost my white blood cells and instructed me to come back to the hospital on Friday to have my counts checked again. If they do not go up as much as they would like, I will get another shot. The goal at this point is to ensure that I am well enough for two more treatments, with my final treatment scheduled for September 24th.  

Chemo Status: Still only 8 Taxol down, but now only 2 to go!

In other news: Aidan and Cooper both started school this week. Both boys were super excited and ran right in to their classrooms.

Taxol 8

Day 1, Treatment Day (Tuesday): This was the fastest chemo I have ever experienced. Matt had his company’s sales conference so he wasn’t with me and I decided that I wanted to go by myself. I went in early for blood work and met with my doctor. Instead of only talking about treatments and blood counts we started talking about how cancer changes your perspective and how time and relationships become more important. She sees patients of all ages and stages and I can only imagine how hard that must be.

I walked into NYU that morning not sure if I was even going to be able to get treatment because of a minor cough that I had over the weekend. I was shocked when my neutrophils were 1.5! The “healthiest” they have ever been during my whole treatment. I went straight from the doctor to the chemo chair and was finished with my treatment by 11am – it was awesome!

Day 2-5 (Wednesday-Friday): Aidan’s camp is finished so the boys don’t really have any scheduled activities. My nanny has been amazing about taking the boys for all-day play dates. They leave the house around 10am and don’t come back home until almost 7pm – after already having eaten dinner and taken baths. It has allowed me to really relax quietly at home.

Labor Day Weekend: We had super busy and fun Labor Day Weekend with friends and family. I can’t believe that September is here!

Chemo Status: 8 Taxol down, 4 to go!

Taxol 7, Part 1 and 2

Part 1

Another delay.

When I met with my doctors on Tuesday, they told me that my counts were too low for treatment. The strangest part was that I felt totally fine even though my counts were at their lowest point (0.9). Still can’t figure that one out.

While every delay is super disappointing, I was a little more okay with this one. Matt was traveling in London this week and I was scheduled to get Taxol 7 & Carbo 3. I have been able to tolerate the Taxol really well (with the exception of the itchy feet) but the Carboplatin seems to hit me a little harder. Before the delay, I was already complaining to Matthew about having to do the nights and mornings with Aidan & Cooper by myself while probably not feeling my best. Also, my birthday was also coming up that week and I had a few celebrations planned that I wanted to feel good for. So, all-in-all, I wasn’t happy about the delay, but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

So I took the week to really rest up. I spent ALL DAY Wednesday and Thursday in bed, went to acupuncture twice and celebrated my birthday the best that I could. Overall, I felt really good, except for the occasional itchiness.

Part 2

Day 1, Treatment Day (Tuesday): The following Tuesday I went back to NYU and my counts were up to 1.2! While meeting with my oncologist, we talked about the only real side effect that I have been experiencing – itchy feet. While I am not feeling itchy all the time, I have been experiencing “itchy spells” where my feet start to itch uncontrollably for about 20 minutes (sometimes longer). It is extremely uncomfortable, but then it goes away.

My doctor mentioned that this is not a typical side effect of Taxol and they believe that this actually could be a precursor to neuropathy. For some, neuropathy is temporary but for others it can be permanent so they want to take extra precautions and monitor my itching closely. There was some debate about lowering the dose of Taxol that I am getting, but it was decided that it is not necessary to do so at this point.

Because this treatment included Taxol and Carboplatin it took a very long time. I didn’t get home until almost 2pm and was exhausted. I took a nap and relaxed for the rest of the day.

Day 2 (Wednesday): I spent the entire day in bed resting and felt not great. I was foggy and didn’t feel sharp. It was frustrating because usually I am unaffected by the treatments but today was not a great day. 
At the end of the day, Cooper went to his Mimi’s house and I had to take Aidan to a friend’s birthday party. He had been talking about going to the party all day so I didn’t even consider missing it. After laying in bed all day, it actually felt really good to get out. 

Day 3 (Thursday): I woke up feeling pretty good. Matt and I took Aidan out for a special breakfast and Aidan helped me at the supermarket. I felt well enough to walk to the West Village to meet a friend for coffee. It was a gorgeous day and it felt really good to move my body. After coffee I walked all the way home instead of taking a cab. It just felt wasteful to not take advantage of the beautiful weather but I was exhausted when I got home and spent the rest of the afternoon in bed. I may have overdone it but it was worth it.

Day 4 (Friday): Unfortunately I still didn’t feel like my normal self by Friday. With the Taxol, I am able to bounce back right away but the Carbo really hits me. I spent the day relaxing, went for a walk, got a manicure, and had an early dinner date with Matt.

Also – strangely, I didn’t experience any itching this week. My doctors prescribed me a new medication to start when the itching came back and it has not returned. I am not sure if that means that it won’t happen again ever or if for some reason my body is tolerating the Taxol differently, but I am grateful for a week of no itching.

Chemo Status:

7 Taxol down, 5 to go!