Intentions

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.