Chemo Graduation

It is time for my last chemo post (I hope) and what better way to write about than my chemo graduation. Originally I wanted to throw some sort of a party, but thinking about in more detail, I just realised that I did not have the energy or strength to plan it. Nevertheless accomplishing this part of my journey should not go uncelebrated, so I decided to do it more low key by doing the things that I love doing best and enjoy doing most: once I was up, after a restful good night sleep, I gave my body a nice pampering session with body scrub, bath oil, body cream and hand lotion – I even washed my bald scalp to help it regenerate and enable my hair to maybe grow a tad better. Then I did something, which I had never done before – I put on a makeup on an absolutely random weekday trying to match it with the colours of my clothing and accessories. Tonight I am off to meet my friend Miss H. for a lovely dinner followed by a Rea Garvey concert. I am a huge Rea Garvey fan, his CD runs constantly either in my room or in my car, and I could not think of any better way to celebrate my chemo graduation than rocking it with his music at a live concert. As I said it does not sound like something major I am doing today, but it suits me just fine. The big party will come eventually, maybe once the whole treatment is over.

If I have time tomorrow and feel not too groggy, I might even go to town and treat myself to a lovely new charm for my bracelet to mark this step of my journey- I already have in mind what I want. The green turtle – for me it is the symbol of perseverance. When I was studying for my MA in Brighton, I found times really though as next to full time study and part time work I had no time for a social life (apart from the occasional drop in at my favourite coffee shop). However there was one place in Brighton, which I adored, which gave me time to breathe – the aquarium. In one of their tanks they had two sea turtles and there was an underwater tunnel where you could walk through. I think in the middle of this tunnel there was a bench, and I loved sitting there, gazing up through the windows watching the turtles go by. It was so peaceful and quiet, and it helped me relax. It was kind of like the turtles were telling me “Keep calm and carry on” – and I did. As there are some uncertain times lying ahead of me – this turtle charm would be the perfect addition to my bracelet – reminding me of what I have achieved and how much more I can achieve as long as I stay composed and focused.20130208_180747

Proof of the celebratory drink (non-alcoholic!!!) of the night – a Virgin Mojito

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Steffi – 2:0 – Cancer

The second leg of my journey is over, officially over (well apart from potential side effects).  I walked into the hospital today a lot stronger, more composed and more focused than I could have possibly imagined yesterday night, ready to embrace this last loop of the 2nd round of my battle. I was wearing my pink battle t-shirt, my pink fleece; my charm bracelet and Miss Snoopy’s earring; I had my notebook with me just in case, and I brought a few items to set up a little shrine – a clay guardian angel (which I had bought shortly after I had discovered the lump in my breast), the necklace pendant in the shape of the blue stone guardian angel C. had given me, and my tiger eye stones.

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Setting up my physical and mental supplies for the last session

At 8.30 I went into the ring to do my last warm up round (blood tests and a cardiogram) before having a break to refresh myself with a sumptuous breakfast consisting of muesli, a dark roll, butter, jam, orange juice and coffee.

At 10 am I climbed back into the ring – for the final round. I settled nicely into my chair with a blanket and the heart shaped pillow, a fellow cancer patient had given me as a present for my last chemo, had my phone ready to listen to some music. I was ready for the fight to commence. It was a long drawn out one, which was not meant to end until 4 pm. Yes, that is correct 6 hours of chemotherapy – my new personal record.

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My battle field/ring with

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My battle field/ring with my weapon( the chemo poison)

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And the final round begins

Warrior at battle

A warrior at battle

Chats, banters and laughter with the taxi company coordinator, my favourite nurse “Miss Sunshine”, mum, other patients and a work colleague made sure I stayed positive and upbeat until the end. Listening to my battle song “Miss Raspberry” as well as Giulio Cacini’s Ave Maria sung by Sumi Jo as well as dozing off while holding mum’s hand also helped me relax and stay calm throughout the day.

 

Mummy Love

 

Much needed mummy love

I was so glad Miss Sunshine was there! She insisted on putting me on the chemo drip for one last time, as she was the one who had also put me on the drip for the very first time. The same as I chose the same booth for the final treatment as the one I had for the very first one – we both needed to come full circle.  Mum picked up some chocolates and biscuits to say thank you to Miss Sunshine. Every time I see this particular nurse I feel so much better about having chemo, she in a way makes me feel invincible. In a private moment I revealed to Miss Sunshine that she was indeed my favourite nurse, and she replied that she liked me too, commenting that we kind of had this connection or bond from the moment I had walked into the ward for the very first time. How wonderful! I felt truly blessed.

At around 1 pm it was time for some more food to keep my energy levels up for the rest of the afternoon. Today’s lunch menu really made me happy – I got roast chicken with cabbage turnip (one of my favourite vegetables) and rice. It was so yummy and exactly what I needed, especially as a few weeks ago I have had a massive craving for a half roast chicken, which made my mouth water. Later that afternoon mum brought me another piece of  raspberry chocolate cake, which was delicious.

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My body, sould and mind stayed strong til the end, so at 4 pm the fight was declared over and the current score in the Steffi-Cancer Battle stands at Steffi -2 and Cancer – 0. I won the first round of surgery and the second round of chemo. Now bring on the third challenge – radiotherapy.

It was then time to leave the ward, but not before I had made sure I had acted towards realising one of my long term goals – – setting up a support cancer group for young adults in Luxembourg. That is why I gave Miss Sunshine my contact details – so that if ever she comes across another young cancer patient who needs someone to talk to, someone  who has gone through the same battle,  that person is able to contact me. I know it is a long way off from a cancer support group, but it is a start. Sometimes you just need to start building your dreams slowy, one stone at a time.

So I went home, head held high, punching the air in a victorious move, feeling tired and exhausted but most importantly proud and relieved because knowing I had made through these treacherous waters and had mastered this leg of the journey like a true warrior. Recovery is really needed now as I need to gain the necessary strength to face stage 3 – radiotherapy.

This actually fits perfectly with today’s inspirational quote I have on my calendar “Golden Thoughts for the Soul” or today. It says:

Bedenke:

Ein Stück des Weges liegt hinter dir,

Ein anderes Stück hast du noch vor dir,

Wenn du verweilst, dann nur um dich zu stärken,

Aber nicht um aufzugeben

 

Translated into English, this means

 

Consider this

A part of the path/journey lies behind you,

Another part lies ahead of you

If you linger, then only to strengthen yourself

But not to give up

So what is next? First of all – sleep! Lots of beautiful sleep for this warrior. For the rest we shall just see – life is full of surprises.

Miss Raspberry

So it is time to get ready, time to turn into a warrior again, time to transform into Miss Raspberry, physically and mentally.

My Battle T-Shirt will be worn tomorrow, my battle song “Miss Raspberry” will be listened to over and over again.

I will gather all my strength, courage and determination to take on this last chemotherapy.

Bring it on – poison me one last time – I will kick some real ass; will show this cancer that the tumour just chose the wrong host.

Yes it will be emotional; yes I am scared of what comes after chemo. I need to take a deep breath, close my eyes for a few seconds, and then walk this last leg of this 2nd leg of my journey.

But why am I feeling so uneasy on this last night before the last session? “Don’t panic Steffi, don’t worry, you will be fine, you will be just fine”, that is what I keep telling myself. And if the tears come, I will let them come… it is ok. It is perfectly ok.

I will walk out of the chemo ward of the hospital tomorrow exhausted and drained, but I will doing it my head held high, knowing that I am a victorious warrior, knowing that I have won this 2nd round of the battle. And that no one will ever be able to take that away from me.

 

Battle T-Shirt

I should have known that spending time on an imaginary baseball field throwing raspberries at my invisible enemy would take its toll. The « little sucker » seriously did not like it and came back with a vengeance. Whereas I had thought that the chemo side effects would pass me by this time, I am now suffering again from bone pain even though I did not have the booster shot. I guess my bone marrow is busy producing white blood cells nevertheless, which is painful but makes me incredibly proud of my body as well. However my body really needed some serious encouragement and love this morning, so I put on my battle T-shirt on and I kept repeating my battle mantra in my head.

I am a smart, fun, cool, loveable, cute, amazing, beautiful, adorable, magnificent, caring, strong, loving, determined, awesome and unique warrior and I am ready for battle.

My Battle T-Shirt

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Chemo Diary – Mixed Feelings

Back on Boxing Day 2012 I contemplated how I was feeling about my upcoming 4th chemo, jotting down some  thoughts. I now had time to elaborate a bit more on this and include an update on my fifth chemo as well. I am afraid this does not make for some light reading, but I promise and will try for something more witty, funny and lighter for the next post.

So how am I feeling? Hmmm, that is indeed a good question. Because I feel two things at the same time, and they are actually two feelings that in a way should not go together. I feel fear and I feel love, yeah strange I know.

It is Boxing Day, and tomorrow I am going in for my 4th chemo, and I don’t know why but that this 4th one really scares me. Maybe it is because they are changing medication tomorrow, apparently this one will make me less sick (well apart from the first session I have not felt nauseous at all, so not a great benefit here me thinks) but the two different chemo medications will meet in my blood stream and apparently don’t particularly like each other, so I could feel worse (massive New Year’s Eve celebration is out then). Also the new medication will come at a time where my white blood cell count is at a low, the nurses will need to give me an injection to boost my white blood cells. That is just so bloody scary, as my immune system is already weak, and as soon as someone around me is sick, I get sick too. A cold for me can easily last for up to 3 weeks…  I am so sick and tired of being sick.

I think what makes me anxious is the fact that I have NO clue as to what to expect of this 4th chemo.  If the side effects were the same for all chemo sessions, then at least I would be mentally and physically prepared for what awaits me, but so far my body has reacted very different to each session….

Here a little overview

First chemo (October 24th, 2012) – I felt nauseous (like someone having cleaned out my tummy with bleach), sooooo tired and I craved tubs of guacamole and sour cream. I literally could have consumed avocados in any shape or form in abundance.

Second chemo (November 14th, 2012)  –  nothing (apart from wanting a bit of a nap the day after chemo)

Third chemo (December 6th, 2012)  – I caught a nasty cold and suffered from insomnia (side effect of the  cortisone in my pre-medication, which I receive before my body is poisoned with chemo). However it might well be that the insomnia prior to chemo was related to something else as well. – it seems ironic, but I have a crush on someone, and it seems mutual, and that is wonderful, even if it is weird as we have not yet met in person. At first I kept wondering whether this really is a good time to have a crush on someone, but as Lulu said « It is the perfect time to have a crush  on someone ! » and Miss MoneyPenny added « Having a crush on someone increases your endorphin levels  (happy hormones) my dear, that is good for your immune system ! ». So falling in love is a good way to help me beat cancer and stay healthy, I like that new weapon in my warrior arsenal…. Bring it on!

Fourth Chemo (December 27th, 2012) – chemo itself did not have any direct sides, the side effects came with the white blood cell booster injection. As the white blood cells are produced in my bone marrow, by bones were horribly aching for 4 days – the pelvis bone pain was literally the worst.

Fifth chemo (January 17th, 2013) – Apart from feeling tired, so far no major side effects. However this has been by far the longest chemo session I have had – I arrived at the hospital at 8.30 am and did not leave until 3 pm. The whole thing left me drained, exhausted and also cold. Fortunately the nurse (actually my two favourite nurses were on duty today, so I managed to do a little happy dance) brought me a blanket. Mum, whom I was  honestly so grateful to for being there with me  this time, made sure that I was nicely wrapped and tucked up, held my hand and let me snooze for a bit. In the afternoon she went down to the cafeteria and brought me this lovely piece of chocolate and raspberry cake, it was just pure bliss and heaven. Honestly little things just really make the whole chemo procedure bearable. Chemo Nr. 5 changed my cravings though – it is no longer avocados, but any berry related fruit,  particularly raspberries….I guess there are worse cravings to have.

The reason why the procedure takes so long is that when I first get into hospital I need to have a blood test and  cardiogram  done. My blood samples then get sent to the lab and it takes an hour or so before they are back, then I have to wait for the doctor to give her go ahead before the nurses can put me on the drip. Then  I am getting the pre-medication (Fortecortine and Zofran), which are meant to reduce the side effects of feeling nauseous and sick. Once that is done, I get the chemo medication (Taxotere), followed by Herceptin (a monoclonal antibody medication given to patients diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer, an aggressive form of breast cancer, to reduce the cancer cells from spreading and growing). A little note on the side here before you get all too scared about me – during surgery my doctor managed to remove the cancerous tumour. Also the the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes (which is extremely good news). The Herceptin and chemotherapy treatment are done to make sure not a single micro cancer cell survives in my body and to avoid the cancer from reoccuring.  Eventually I receive a dose of a common salt solution (solution of sodium chloride), to make sure that all the tubes are rinsed of the medication (so that I do not miss out on a single drop of drugs destined to help me get cured of my cancer).It takes about 3 hours until everything is over but as the chemo medication started to hurt the nurses had to reduce the speed at which it was administered to me, so the whole process was drawn out a bit.

One side effect, which I have had for all chemo sessions, and which I particularly dislike – is that my taste buds get completely messed up- I cannot taste food or drink properly. I mean I am a big coca-cola addict, but after chemo it just tastes flat without any bubbles; the same goes for sparkling wine (or crémant as it is called in Luxembourg). Whereas for food I prefer strongly flavoured food as it means I can taste at least something. Ffor someone who is as big as a foodie as me, this is just really sad… Even mum’s amazing mac and cheese, one of my favourite meals, just did not taste right the night after my 5th chemo. I hate this metallic taste on my mouth after chemo…

I managed to take some pictures of my chemo procedure last Thursday, just to give you an idea of what the treatment looks like.

Chemo Medication

Me on the chemo drip

I wonder what Chemo No.6 will have in store for me… at least I will have my chemo graduation at the end of February to look forward to.