2020-Fork This! Part 2

Well, here we are in 2021, over a year from my initial cancer diagnosis.

Allow me to sum up.

April/May started my Dose Dense AC therapy. I had my husband shave my head down to about a half an inch of hair rather than wait for it to fall out in sickly clumps. It took until the week after the second dose for my hair to start falling out. It all was gone by the end of May, and my eyebrows and eyelashes disappeared over the summer as well. I wore chemo caps when I was in air conditioning because my head got cold, and outside to prevent my head from getting sunburned. I continued to work from home, which was a blessing because there were some days I wouldn’t have been able to drive due to the fatigue, and I took a half an hour nap every day at lunch just to get through the rest of the workday.

My Dose Dense therapy ended in early June, and I started the second part of my treatment, weekly doses of Taxol. When people talk about side effects of chemotherapy, they mostly talk about losing hair and appetite, and occasionally mention nausea. Taxol is pretty damn nasty. I lost my sense of taste, the feeling in my fingertips and toes. I also lost most of the toenails on my right foot, and half of them on my left foot. I got a chemical foot peel from the inside out – all the calloused skin on the bottom of my feet came completely off. I developed horrible chemical burns on the sides of my ankles and on my hands.

Thankfully my last day of chemotherapy was on September 3rd, 2020. Two days before my 55th birthday! With the pandemic still going on, celebrations were rather subdued. No dinner out, hot tubbing and ice cream for me!

Surgery was on September 23rd, and I was supposed to be off work for 12 weeks of short term disability, to allow myself to heal and to receive radiation treatment. I was very lucky – all that aggressive chemotherapy treatment shrank my tumor down from 4.7mm to .5mm, and the tumor in my lymph node was completely gone! At my one week follow up appointment, I was so well healed that they said I could go back to work in a week as long as I wasn’t doing any lifting.

By the end of October I started radiation treatment. I got there early in the morning, every morning, for 6 weeks while I lay on the table, pretending I was in a tanning bed. My hair was starting to come back, coming in curly and black for the first few weeks! Out of all the treatments I received, radiation was the easiest to deal with, until the last two weeks when I started showing signs of a burn between my left breast and my left arm. It turned out one of the recommended lotion brands had Alpha Hydroxy Acid in it – the same stuff that’s used in some chemical peels! It even says right on the bottle in tiny print to be careful of sun exposure when using it, because it can cause your skin to redden.

I completed radiation therapy November 30th, 2020.

I don’t get to say I am cancer-free yet. Apparently I have to wait 5 to 7 years, and if no more cancer presents itself during that time, then I may call myself cancer-free. In the meantime, I live my life with my newly-curly hair, my slightly tanner left breast, and a whole lot of gratitude for the people who saw me through this. I am especially thankful for all the folks at the D’amour Cancer Care Center in Springfield, MA who took such excellent care of me during The Year of Covid, when no-one was allowed to sit with me during my chemo appointments. The Baystate Health Breast Center in Springfield, who were so good and thorough with all my questions; and Dr. Holly Mason, who did an excellent job on my surgery – she is a blessing and an artist!

The greatest thanks go to my husband, Eric, without whom this whole journey would have been so much more difficult! He cooked for me, helped me deal with my pain, drove me to appointments, and did everything he could to be there for me in anyway he could.