Tuesday, February 1, 2011


So the Spence household has had a crazy couple of weeks, but the last three or four days have felt really normal! Last we spoke, I was digesting some awful, awful news and facing some new chemo treatments. First off, thank you so much for the incredible outpouring of support everyone shared via email and comments. To hear so many of you who have had Xeloda experience, it was just what the Big Man and I needed to hear. Entering this new chapter was so much less scary. Thank you!

With all of my readers and supporters by my side, I wasn't afraid of a single thing... until....

Saturday January 15th, I was one week into my new Tykerb regimen. The Good Doctor started me on Tykerb alone because I have my Swap Surgery scheduled in February. My swap surgery, for my non-cancer friends, is my final reconstructive surgery. My plastic surgeon opens up my old mastectomy scars, removes my tissue expanders, and puts in my permanent implants. While it may seem crazy to have a surgery in the midst of new chemo, the expanders are uncomfortable and I have been asking to have them removed for about five months now. Nothing is standing in between me and Swap Surgery. Come hell or high water, these things are coming out February 9th! The doctors wanted to hold off on giving me the full dose of my treatment until about a week after surgery because we don't want to compromise the ol' immune system.

So the point is, on Saturday January 15th, I am not afraid or worried at all. I have my biggest pair of Big Girl Pants on and I am being a brave little girl. Life is good. For now, I only have to take 5 pills a day as opposed to 11. The 5 I have to take aren't even chemo, they are "targetted therapy." Thousands of women have handled this very same regimen with no problem. I have the support of my family, friends, and blogger buddies. This whole Stage IV cancer thing is a bummer, but really its a cake walk. I was getting ready to blog about just how easy this whole new cancer chapter was shaping up to be.

It was Saturday night and I was in the bathroom preparing for a nice dinner out with the hubby and my in-laws.  Earlier that week was when I first noticed a little breakout on my face. Not attractive. I looked like a prime candidate for one of those Proactive commercials.

By Friday, the breakout had extended to my fake chest. Not attractive, but still not cause for alarm. I had maybe 15 small zits. Nothing that a heavy dose of foundation and a turtleneck couldn't remedy.

But that Saturday evening, January 15th, the rash started growing a rash of it's very own. I had hives on my back. I had hives on my bottom. I had hives on my scalp.

I itched. And when I itched my itch, the itch hurt. When the itch hurt I put on this soothing ointment my doctor prescribed. But to put on the ointment, I had to look in the mirror, and every time I looked in the mirror, I didn't see the allergic reaction for what it was. Instead, I saw Cancer staring me right in the face. I saw Cancer all over me like "stink on a skunk," as my grandmother would say.

My mind was going crazy focusing on these hives and on this cancer. For once I felt truly "stricken" with cancer.

I had it in my mind that the only thing that would make the itching stop was a nice, warm bath. I had visions of Mommy drawing an oatmeal bath when my baby brother and I both had chicken pox the same week. The vision of a homemade remedy empowered me. If I could just draw a bath, this whole rash situation would clear right up. Oatmeal would easily conquer a powerful chemo drug! I had my oatmeal in hand and was ready to take a long bath before my in-laws arrived. The Oatmeal would fix everything just in time for their arrival. I had two hours. Plenty of time.

I had visions of me opening the door wearing my best cashmere turtleneck sweater and a smile. I would hide the rash on my face with multiple layers of perfectly applied foundation. I would hand them a nice glass of Cabernet. I would have white wine and beer chilled. A tray of fine cheese would be waiting on the coffee table. Candles would be burning. Jazz music would be playing in the background. Our Christmas decorations were still up. "Please, come in! Yes, mother-in-law, see how well your son chose? I am taking care of him. Cancer? What do you mean cancer? Cancer hasn't got me down! No way, no how. I'm taking care of him ya see? He isn't a caregiver! Who needs a caregiver?"  I was going to be like a duck when I opened the door for the in-laws, calm on top but paddling like the dickens underneath.

And then, I turned on the bath and found to my dismay....

We were out of hot water.

No big deal, perhaps a slightly chilly bath would be just fine for my hives.

No, an ice cold bath actually makes the hives worse. It turned on every nerve in my entire body.

That was when the crazy came out.

In an attempt to "help" in my time of need, the Big Man had apparently thrown in a load of laundry and had also loaded the dishwasher inadvertently draining our condo of hot water. In a normal state, I would thank the Big Man for helping me clean up before his parents' arrival. I should have just shrugged my shoulders at the inconvenience of not being able to prep appropriately for their arrival, but I was not in a normal state of mind. The hives were talking here.

In one of those blind rages that happen when you are frustrated and need to lash out, you can only lash out at the people you love the most because those are the people who won't ever leave you. I flew into a rage and cursed the Big Man and his helpfulness.

How dare he do the laundry!
How thoughtless of him to reload the dishwasher!
Doesn't he know that I run the show around here?
Doesn't he know I need a tub full of warm water!
Now it will be an hour before the water's warm again, and his parents are coming.
Your parents are coming!
What am I going to do?

The wheels came off. I cried. I screamed. I threw some pillows around. I may have thrown other things, I can't remember.

My in-laws did come, God love them, in the middle of this whole fiasco. I was running around in my robe (the only piece of clothing that didn't itch) and screaming bloody murder about:

our stupid water heater needs to be replaced. Maybe tonight. You think a plumber can come tonight?
Why on earth did we buy this hole in the wall condo in the first place? Huh?
YOU, Big Man, YOU were the one who first came to the stupid Open House.
YOU were the one who found this condo and it's stupid broken water heater.
We never should have bought this place.
What a waste!
Nice job you house-buying, laundry and dish-cleaning, worthless excuse for a husband!

It was a Kelly Bensimon in the Virgin Islands kind of a night!
Needless to say, I looked not at all like a duck, I was nowhere close to looking like Martha Stewart. Jazz was not playing in the background. Cheese was not out on the coffee table. Frankly, if I had greeted the in-laws at the door with a glass of wine, it would have made me look even worse! With a glass of wine in my hand, they could have confused my hive-induced rage with the ravings of a drunk!

I looked not at all like a duck. I looked not at all like Martha Stewart. I looked instead like one of those Real Housewives. The ones who scream nonsense obscenenities at anything that moves for no real clear reason.

It was an ugly day in the Spence household, and I'm not talking about the zits on my face.

It was a good thing the in-laws showed up when they did. Even though I wanted to crawl into the hardwood floor and die of embarrassment right then and there, their arrival calmed me down long enough to catch my breath and allowed the Big Family to actually talk through the situation in a somewhat civilized manner.

Big Man suggested I call the doctor to see if we couldn't stop taking the Tykerb and get some stronger treatment for the hives. I refused. No way in hell was I going to call my doctor! What a crazy idea! It was a Saturday afternoon and Dr. P is a married woman with three little girls at home. How could the Big Man not realize this? I monopolize her time enough during the week. No way was I interrupting what was surely a beautiful Saturday with the family. I was going to wait this out until 9am on Monday!

I was being such a typical woman, or maybe I was just being exactly like my mother? My mother never wants to bother anyone. It is one of her most admirable, but also most infuriating qualities. Why are we so reluctant to ask for help? Are we confusing this trait with actual strength? In this case, my "strength" was more like stupidity.

Big Man ended up paging the doctor. He ripped the phone out of my shaking, hive covered hands and paged her.

Turns out, Dr. P was at the hospital doing rounds anyway. She said it was a pleasure to hear from me because she was wondering how I had been doing on the new treatment. When she heard about the hives arrival, she was mad I hadn't called sooner because apparently they "get worse before they get better." I was in for a long week. She told me to stop the Tykerb immediately. She faxed a strong antibiotic order to my pharmacy. She told me not to take a bath, I would only make the hives worse.  So much for my oatmeal bath that had started this whole rampage.

To say I had a tail between my hive covered legs is an understatement.

Big Man had never been prouder of himself! Big Man was right, I was wrong. You heard it here first. I'm saying it publicly. He can save this blog post and refer to it forty years from now if the Real Housewives-style crazy ever makes another appearance in his house.

Two weeks worth of antibiotics later, the antibiotics are working wonders. I can take the Tykerb now and I don't break out anymore. I am feeling much more confident about this treatment plan.

More importantly,my face is my own again. I am no longer ashamed to leave the house, although I'm still wearing cashmere turtlenecks (but only because it's winter in Boston.) I no longer think of cancer every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection.

The wheels are back on. The train that is Bridget Kicking Cancer Butt shall continue

Although, I will never live down the in-law embarrassment and I promise my in-laws a more civilized visit next time (and every time thereafter).

Last night was our typical Sunday dinner of roast chicken and "60 Minutes," Big Man poured himself a glass of wine and smiled at me as I was sitting down to the dinner table. He said, "You look pretty. You look like yourself. We're so lucky. I'm so lucky. I love you, Little"

Wow, what a difference a week makes!

And even bigger wow:
Wow, I'm a lucky woman!

Please, kind reader, tell me: Has anyone else had a Cancer-meltdown? I hope I'm not the only person who has allowed Cancer to make her a little ugly to the ones she loves, if only for a moment?


Jenny said...

I've been blessed enough to not face this - although maybe my mom did? One of the few times I think I might have been lucky to be away at school. Nope, in our house, it's the asthma-enduced steroid explosion. Nothing like a little "roid rage" to launch a woman way past her breaking point. How lucky are we to have husbands who just love us (and our stubborn ways) all the more after these episodes? Love you, Bridget! And I'm so glad that you aren't itchy any more! <3

Anonymous said...

Oh Bridget, I had at least a couple of cancer-meltdowns while I was in the thick of it. It may sound strange, but it is good to hear that you do have these meltdowns once in a while. They are a sign of your inner fighter gearing up for the next round. It is also a sign of your incredible strength and sanity. You have handled everything with such grace and courage...but I think it is important to rage and scream every once in a while to remind the cancer, in no uncertain terms, who is in charge here. If I was in your position I think the meltdowns might be the norm instead of an occasional occurrence. You are an amazing woman and you inspire me constantly. Oh, and you will love it when you get those expanders out and get your implants...soooooo much more comfortable! Good luck with everything.

Anna Rachnel said...

Don't worry it happens !!! I had a melt-down last year when I had an allergic reaction to a new chemo drug. And of course it was a weekend so I spent most of it convincing myself that I was fine even though I clearly wasn't, and freaked out when hubby suggested I call the doctor. Of course once I did speak to the Dr her immediate reaction was "Why didn't you call me sooner?". I don't know. I think we're just really good at pushing through being super-women, and trying to forget that we have Stage IV cancer, so when we do need some medical help, we fight it all the way, because we don't want to believe it's happening. That's my theory anyway. Glad you are feeling better. P.S I also had a similar reaction to Tykerb. Acne-like stuff all over my face like a spotty teenager. That might have been the other freak out moment from last year. ;)

Jennifer said...

Bridget, Yes, yes, yes. After one of those my husband who has always been a rock and gotten past these kind of things (the ones that happen when you don't have cancer and just have plain old PMS) -- called my friends to ask for help (or just for an ear to listen). Of course, I didn't know this until long after, or I'm sure it would have sent me into another tailspin.

You are human after all, and have been dealt with a whole load of crap, so you are entitled.

I am glad you are feeling better. Love you.

CoffeeJitters said...

Oh, my, I've had a few moments I'd like to completely erase from history. Cancer intensifies everything, doesn't it? Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

After I read your blog, I ask mother nature to help keep you strong and happy. After this post, I thank the universe for giving you "big man". He's your oak.

You will love your new rack! Mine is awesome and super comfy (silicone smooth mmp by mentor). I'm bringing bra-less back in a big way, and my "oak" is leading the parade!

kate said...

Miss B~

I just asked my husband how many I had and he rolled his eyes and said. "Geesh~ ALOT!!!" I told you I was a bad wife!!! After we got more specific about what a Cancer freakout would be, he was able to say "More than 20 and less than a hundred." Needless to say I remember at least 2 really good ones related to steroids (I am full tilt nut-case on them) and one relating to numbness in my hand and arm. I am sure when I was losing my hair as we were just about to go on Vacation must have been a peak moment too. Oy! You just come to the edge and have to blow off steam. Forget it and move on and save the energy for your immune system and not your guilt over having a moment. People tend to get this. Happily, I have found more and more equilibrium with meditation but have to say that Cancer (mine, nor my parents) has not made me a more enlightened person. I am not holding my breath on that one!!! Blessings on you, Warrior Pixie! Here is a little guy who is also "Comin to the EDGE!"


Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

This was a very funny post and you are allowed to have a cancer melt down every once in a while. I am sure Big Man understood.I've read many of your posts and you handle so much with so much grace, it is relieving to know that you aren't graceful every single second (just 99.9% of the time).

I was very crabby during my treatment with triple negative breast cancer..can I blame the steroids?

But it seems you can get back to treatment now.

Charmine said...

Oh Bridget...I want the melt downs to go away! I am here crying with you!I just want to hurt something, it makes me choke because I can't breathe and I feel like I'm going to explode. I was about to break my beloved laptop last night, because I think my wireless mouse took a dump. You get used to things a certain way, which is comforting...and feels like you you have 1 iota of control left. It wasn't the mouse- it was a really bad day with my soon to be ex husband that brought on the melting point. It was hideous, and I hope to not have one again. Sadly, I'm pretty sure that it will happen again...especially if I don't figure out how to get a divorce very soon. Treasure your Big man and hold him close- he has broad shoulders and someday you will both look at this and laugh, right?

Tarrant said...

Not a cancer meltdown but certainly more than a few autoimmune horrid meltdowns.

How are you doing this week? Any better?

Nancy Lumb said...

Hey Bridget!! Glad to hear the meds are working and that your hives are better. Mostly, though, I am thinking about you and your swap surgery and hoping that you have two wonderful new boobs!!! Enjoy them!!

the Lerd Word said...

Bridget, I have been reading your blog for a few months now and you have given me so much inspiration. First, I hope your surgery went well and that you love your new boobs:) I had my reduction in October and getting my figure back has made me happier then I ever thought possible.

As for the meltdown, we have all been there. You know better then anyone how the big "C" can change your way of thinking and how the strangest things can either bother us or upset us. My poor husband just didnt know what to do. The drug induced menopause doesn't help either, and I'm only 28!

I think about you often and I wish you the best:)


Mandi said...

I am so glad I am not the only one! I have had a few cancer meltdowns since I was diagnosed. It really seems at times that my level of patience and reasoning has certainly been impacted by the big "C." It also seems to make husbands right more often than they used to be. ;)