What does it feel like to have Cancer? Part 3 {Final}

What Does it Feel Like to Have Cancer ~ Part 3 {Final}

Yesterday was a very rough day for most of us.  9/11 brings out so many emotions in all of us.  I know exactly where I was when the news hit about the World Trade Center.  This moment is imprinted in our souls.   I consider NYC my ‘heart home’, falling desperately in love with it when I helped Marriott open their Financial District hotel…..2 buildings from the Towers.  None of us will forget the 2,753 who died in this terrorist attack.  This event changed all of us, making us thankful for the loved ones still in our lives and the blessing we receive everyday we wake up.

September 11 also brings me full circle on my cancer journey, wrapping up the past 8 months in one final surgery.  I went under the knife to have the tissue expander taken out and replaced with a silicone gel implant.  I started this little journal a few months ago.  If you haven’t read Part I, you can read it here, and Part II here…..and if you are really inclined you can read why I even started this project here.

Kyle and Shaunna October 2009

Cancer feels like……

41.  Water Balloon!  I swear to God it felt like I had a water balloon for a breast.  The tissue expander is filled with solution, and when tapped feels like a taut balloon ready to pop.  You could have bounced a quarter off of my breast, lol!  Thank you Dr. B for making the decision for me to replace it with silicone gel.  Much more natural looking and actually feels real (although it still freaks me out not to have any feeling.  Contradiction I know).  I will admit, though, years from now it would have been hysterical if it had popped.  Can you just see it….you are talking to me and all of a sudden one of my breasts goes flat as a pancake!

42.      Lightening Bolt.  Nerves were cut during the mastectomy.  I was told that they would reconnect over time, and to expect shooting pains across the breast and under the arm.  The first one took my breath away, and if I was honest .…..they still do!  Enough already!

43.      Foolishness.  Who in their right mind would stay home alone after a treatment, AND try to paint a master bedroom and 2 closets?  After 4 treatments I was obviously not in my right mind.  Worst 3 days of my life!  Irony is, having zero luck finding bedding to match the robin egg blue walls, I repainted everything exactly 1 year later.  Tip of the day:  Find your bedding or material first, then paint your walls.  Told you I had lost my mind!  LOL!

44.      Dry skin.  Eyelids are red, sore and peeling.  No amount of lotion is soothing.  Finally got a glimpse into what K goes through on a day-to-day basis.  Rough!

45.      Relief.  I may have lost the hair on my head, but I kept it on my arms and legs.  Shhh….we will keep other area’s a secret!

46.      Nervous.  Anyone who knows an Italian, knows that they have big, bushy eyebrows (think unibrow) that need constant attention.  Seeing mine thin out puts me on edge that I will soon be drawing them in.

47.      Surprise!  From the woman stopping me in the store, pulling on her hair, promising that it will grow back…..to the security guard at a Casino drawing me into a conversation, making me feel at ease and not the least bit self-conscious about wearing a bandana in public.  They added a tremendous amount of warmth into my long days!

48.      Scared!  Waking up from a nightmare, hearing the news that there wasn’t anything medically they could do for me.  I didn’t have much time.  Sweating bullets, checking on the boys, breathing their scent calming me eventually.

49.      Cocktail.  Gearing up for a ‘Making Strides’ walk in Brentwood, TN and having a fellow survivor walk up to meet me and ask what my cocktail was!  Cocktail……what cocktail?  We get to drink while walking….cool!  Not!!!  I finally realized she was talking about my chemo drugs, and the only ones having the party and receiving the inevitable buzz were our blood and veins.  **On a side note-there are so many varieties of chemo drugs on the market.  Your type of cancer and cell characteristics will determine whether you are given one or more drugs during treatment.  What was prescribed for me {Taxotere and Cytoxan} may not be best for the next person.  Cancer cells are very tricky little devils.**

50.      Hives and one large Ass!  After my third treatment, and on my birthday no less, I came down with a nasty case of hives.  Oncologist thinks it was a reaction to the Taxotere and they would have to monitor the next dose, to make sure it doesn’t attack my lungs.  I would like to believe it was all the great food I ate…grilled sausage with peppers, onions and mushrooms, my favorite potato salad made by my Mom, crisp corn on the cob and a store-bought cake (ok….the cake was awful, ended up in the trash….but a girl should not have to make her own cake….right!).  Oh, lets not forget the fabulous chocolate cake that KG surprised me with at B’s baseball game.  Now that was yummy!  I have no idea what caused it, still had remaining hives on my palms and feet a week later, but I laughed out loud when the nurse stated “and you thought your ass was going to get big from all the cake you ate, it’s going to get bigger from all the steroids we are about to put you on”!

51.        WTF!  I can learn I have cancer over the phone, but I have to shell out a $40 copay to learn my colonoscopy turned out beautifully and my colon very healthy.  Still have not gotten over that injustice!

52.      Mouth Rot. The chemo is sucking all of the moisture from my mouth.  Two large bumps have set up camp on the back of my tongue and seem to be there for the long haul, and to make matters worse, everything tastes like metal.  So why am I constantly feeding my face?

53.      Fatigue.  I am so tired of being strong for everyone, bottling my emotions, putting one foot in front of the other, keeping the family schedule ‘normal’.  I wish someone (other than my favorite husband), anyone, would just have the courage to wrap me in their arms and let me release all the pent-up emotions swirling through my body.

54.      Invasion.  My Mom was a trooper, making numerous trips down to care for me and the boys.  I know the constant travel and worry took a toll on her.  One particular arrival came on a Sunday following a treatment.  Shame playing tricks on me ~loving that she is there, but wanting to scream because she is invading my territory and all I crave is solitude.

55.      Bonus.  It was a scorcher (similar to our current summer) and I have lots of frizzy, curly hair.  Being bald meant no stressing over it, straightening it only to have it corkscrew the instant I walked outside.  Small blessing!

56.      Grieving.  Farrah Fawcett passed away and Michael Jackson is getting most of the attention.  She battled cancer for 3 years fighting every step of the way.  I admire her strength and tenacity.  Her outcome could be my outcome—I must continue the fight.

57.      Aversion.  I still cannot drink, or eat, many of the items consumed during the treatments.  The oddest thing, I chewed ice constantly before finding out I had cancer.  Drove PT nuts!  Now even the thought of ice on my teeth makes me cringe.  I prefer my drinks lukewarm and ice-free!

58.      Care package & Inspiration.  My brother-in-law’s ex sister-in-law (I will give you a minute to wrap your head around that one) was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer a few months before my diagnosis.  She started a blog to keep her family and friends informed on her prognosis and well-being.  I got ahold of this site, Bliggity Bloggity Boo(b), and it was my lifeline in my darkest moments.  When I found it, I literally read it from the beginning.  Good thing it was a Friday, because it was a very late night.  Since then her amazing niece and nephew (yep….his ex-wife) made me a flannel pillowcase to keep my bald head warm (isn’t that the sweetest thing!!), and Sue and I have become friends…..even living 3,000 miles away.  She probably has no clue that I considered her my rock (or her blog anyway) during this whole process.  If she can have the strength and courage to kick cancer’s ass, then I have absolutely no excuse feeling sorry for myself.  I am so happy that I will finally get to meet her in November.  Woo Hoo!

59.      Teenager.  Went to the local casino with friends and they actually carded me.  Are you kidding me?  Nope, they weren’t!  Biker babe must = youth, and weren’t they surprised to see my actual age on my license. Love it!

60.      Anger.  Consoling my MIL on the phone.  Me, consoling her as she is crying on the phone.  Something wrong with this picture, right?  I finally told her to get her act together, that I needed happy people in my surroundings, telling me dirty and very inappropriate jokes.  If she couldn’t do that for me she needed to stay away.  Sadly, she did.

61.        Rolling the Dice.  The choices I made to save my life could have damaging long-term effects on my body.  The chemo and the current cancer drug that I will take for many years could have damaged my heart, can lead to leukemia and uterine cancer, as well as, increased blood clots.  Very scary on their own, but combined can make you quake in your boots.  No regrets.  I made the choices I made to increase my current odds.  If these possibilities happen in the future, we will just deal with them one at a time.

62.     Wink.  I have decided not to get the one tattoo that PT could never say ‘no’ on.  Couldn’t imagine PT having to break the news to the boys.  “Sorry kids, Mom died on the table because she needed a nipple” LOL!  Instead, my chest is proudly winking at all of you.  BTW….on my 5th birthday…. you will be able to find a tattoo somewhere on my body!

63.      Routine.  My routine is methodical.  Every 3 months I visit with my Oncologist and run countless blood work (still wish I had that port), and every 6 months has me heading down to my surgeon for mammograms, ultrasounds, etc.  It also finds me googling every little symptom I have.  Sudden blurry vision and pressure in my left eye, must be a tumor forming behind it.  Aching back…bone cancer.  See where I am going with this.  Every little lump, bump and bruise means something different for a cancer patient.  For us, it is another cancer waiting to be discovered.  We dread hearing the words that your cancer has metastasized.

64.     Shock.   Recently receiving the late night news that my tumor marker was higher than normal.  It was a very long month waiting to take the blood test again…..very thankful the numbers fell back into an acceptable range.  Also very thankful for my team of Doctor’s and staff who have to make those phone calls (to someone) every day of the week.  That is not a job I would want on my resume.

65.     Chemo Brain.  A very real reality for many of us.  Disorganized, confused, hard time focusing and staying on task (trying to multi-task = instant anxiety), forgetting people’s names that I have known forever.  BTW-please forgive me on that last one.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it kills me when it is happening and you may see a blank look in my eyes…I promise I am stewing over it after the fact.  Afraid to open my mouth, because the words I am searching for do not come, or I say something totally inane or off subject.  Tough one to swallow and praying for it to fade soon!

66.      Mid life crisis.  “You are in remission, go home….get on with your life”!  Huh, how do I do that?  That simple statement sent me into a downward spiral that I couldn’t pull myself out of.  Maybe they should give us a step by step guide on how to move from fighting for your life to enjoying your life.  I wouldn’t have wasted 3 years of my life trying to figure it all out.  If only it could have been as easy as going out and buying a sports car!

Cancer has a face ~MINE, and a hand that my husband hopefully still loves to hold.

I am ashamed to say that prior to 2009 cancer freaked me out, equating it to an instant death sentence.  I no longer think this….

Does this finally mean at the age of 44 I have grown up?

I am so glad I decided to take on this task.  I hope I have helped someone out there in cyberspace.  I do know that I have helped myself.  I have finally moved passed that midlife crisis of mine, and I am ready and anxious to tackle the world (or at least my little section on Dana Dr.)!  I have listed a number of negatives in this little journal of mine, but I need to be fair and say that there are just as many positives.  I have a new appreciation for life!  It is a magical world filled with so many opportunities.  I have an amazing husband who puts up with all my shit.  If the shoes were reversed, I may have taken a long walk ages ago off a very short pier!  I also have 2 wonderful sons.  They make me do and say crazy things, but I am so proud of the ‘person’ they are becoming.  I have been blessed with friends who have my back, any hour of the day.  The outpouring of support, whether it be through Wednesday night meals, inspirational cards, or the quilt that magically appeared on my doorstep, blows my mind.  How cool is it that people actually like me?!!

I am relieved that I am also able to give back, raising thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society and instilling the values of giving back and community to my children.  Relay for Life was not an option for me in ’09.  Visions of me being a paper bag, had me running for a bag to calm the hyperventilating within.  These days I am proud to be a paper bag, representing survivors everywhere.  Raising money for this worthy organization is important to me.  They support so many with their educational tools and research, and I took full advantage of their resources during treatment.

What is the number one thing I hope you all take from this entry?

Treat Every Day as if it Has an EXPIRATION DATE!

                                                                Many Blessings,  Shaunna


10 thoughts on “What does it feel like to have Cancer? Part 3 {Final}

  1. I will pray everyday that a cure is found. Every time I read and reread this it breaks my heart to know that the person I saw and talked to was going through all of these horrible things. I have a new friend in my life that has breast cancer and I am trying my very hardest to “help” with anything I can. Her story is different but the same all in one…….. I think about your family when I’m with hers. God Bless you Shaunna every day!!

  2. I found you on One Artsy Mama. My dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last Feb and it’s been a wild ride. Your post is amazing. I like you on facebook so I don’t miss a thing!

  3. Shaunna – so absolutely beautifully said. I am proud to know you. Thank you for putting into words, what those of us who have not gone through said processes can now understand. One of my dearest friends is a cancer survivor…I only wish I had read this 3 years ago when she was “in the trenches”. Keep on inspiring!!

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  5. Shaunna, beautifully written…..my heart aches for you with every word. I’m so glad this part of your “journal” has a happy ending–that you can live your life with a new appreciation for every day. None of us know how many days we have…..it’s not how many, but how we spend the days we have. Sounds like you are living them well.

    • Trying to Jen! My type A personality makes it difficult to relax, but I am doing better at not sweating the small stuff. Still waiting for that visit to do lots and lots of baking and scrapping!

  6. Wow! I’ve ready many of your posts, and focused mainly on the food. I’ve been away from the computer for most of the last few weeks, and am blown away by this (3 part) series of posts. As a nurse, I fear every etch-bump-twinge in an unhealthy obsessive way. I happily had an “aggressive benign cyst” removed from my foot in June as this meant that I’d paid my dues for the year and would not have an more surgeries, etc. Us nurses- We’re just not right! Your story is bravely and honestly portrayed. So much so that when I (inevitably- but better me than the kids…) come down with a malignant growth I’ll be able to face it with more dignity, and hopefully less fear. Thanks for the plain, real and human story of coping.

    • Thank you for your very kind words. I have a lot of respect for nurses….who sometimes know so much more than physicians….who put on such a brave face when dealing with patients who are dealing with so much heartache. I don’t have thick enough skin to deal with all of the pain that medical staff witness everyday!

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