Friday, November 25, 2011

My Blog of Thanks Giving

Happy Thanksgiving, readers!

I hope you are all snuggled up on the couch, catching up on sleep, reading a book, or enjoying a football game! For me, Thanksgiving took on a whole new importance after my cancer diagnosis. Prior to cancer, Thanksgiving for me was simply the dress rehearsal for Christmas. Now, after cancer, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I so appreciate this one day a year when I can sit back, surrounded by my loved ones who know me and my struggle best, and count my proverbial blessings.

Every year, my family goes around the dinner table and proposes a toast to his or her greatest blessing. Prior to cancer I always came up with something, but it was never anything that truly stirred my heart. Post-cancer, I was giving thanks for just about everything- from my health care insurance, to my co-workers who covered for me on sick days, to the plumber who cleaned a whole head's worth of my hair out of our shower drain. Everything, even the most inconsequential, took on a new importance post-cancer.

This year, for a moment back in October, that happiness, that ability to give thanks and mean it, even for the small stuff, the ability to count my blessings was taken away from me. I had trouble finding things to be thankful for when I was facing constant, aching back pain from my bone metastasis. It was hard to be thankful when my hair was falling out in huge clumps every time I took a shower. It was hard to be thankful when the Taxol started giving me daily nosebleeds. It was really hard to be thankful when, not only was I self conscious about my newly sheared head, but I also started breaking out in a hot red rash all over my face and bald head from the steroids. It was hard to be thankful when I missed a best college friend's wedding because I didn't have enough energy after chemo to make the cross country trip. But most of all, it was hard to give thanks for even the most constant blessing - my family and friends - when I looked around the room, remembered the terrible news my doctor had given, and imagined future Thanksgivings without me at the table.

I was running the risk of becoming jaded. I didn't like jaded Bridget. Jaded Bridget was not in line with my sunny personality. Had cancer finally won on every front? Had it taken away not only my health, my good looks, my physical ability to provide for my family, but even my happy personality?

I didn't know how to deal with this. I was having nightmares about visiting the pearly gates and being denied admission - very vivid dreams where I would be grilled by a scary looking judge about every piece of nasty gossip I had spread and every lie I'd ever told. I was petrified by and obsessed with the thought that we might have a vengeful God on our hands.

One Sunday afternoon, Big Man came home from a weekend away with friends. He asked me what I had done all weekend long in his absence and I did what so many wives would do. I lied. Did I tell him I sat on the couch all weekend and read that trashy chick lit novel I'd been meaning to get to since summer? Did I tell him I let the dog sleep in bed with me because I wanted some company while I ate popcorn and watched "Princess Bride" for the 50th time? No, I told Big Man that I spent the weekend at the grocery store, walking the dog, and "running errands" because Big Man wouldn't even know what errands exactly needed running. That beautiful fall Sunday evening, I fell asleep in our crisply cold room and woke up in a sweat at 4am from that same nightmare. Vengeful God had condemned me to an eternity in hell for lying to my husband about the dog sleeping and the book reading.

October was a tough month for me.

But then, without warning, hope and joy started peeking through in the most unexpected of places when I wasn't even looking for it.  Hope found me in the bathroom when I lost my hair.

The first time I went through chemo and lost my hair six years ago, I visited a fancy salon to have my head shaved. They took me into a private back room, and some woman I've never seen before or since shaved me in about 5 minutes. This time around, I was much more matter-of-fact about the whole hair loss. I was prepared. I had done this before.

Me in my wig the night after Big Man shaved my hair.
That's one good-looking wig & he's one good-looking hubby!
One morning, I woke up and I couldn't take the itching anymore. (Chemo kills your hair follicles so they itch and the hair shaving actually comes as a bit of a welcome relief.) I woke up Big Man. Without even a word of protest, even though it was only 7am on a Saturday morning, Big Man got up. He and I walked hand-in-hand to Walgreen's. We purchased a pair of clippers, I stuck my head into the sink, and my husband shaved off all my hair. He cried a bit, which made me cry. I thanked him profusely, which made him cry.  But in the end, a moment I had dreaded actually gave me hope. I will cherish that memory forever. After seven years together, shaving my head in the bathroom sink was certainly our most intimate moment. We were a scared young couple looking ahead toward an uncertain future, but at least we were doing it together. He had my back. He would take care of me. "In sickness and in health" we had told each other when I still had hair and boobs. Big Man proved he meant those vows when he shaved my head last month, slowly, carefully, and whispering soft words of comfort when I cried.

I also found hope that I was afraid to share with all of you. I'm still so afraid to share this news with you because I'm afraid next week the tide will turn. My heart and hope might be crushed again, and only God knows when. When this good news changes, I will be forced to explain the change to all of you, and then all of you will be crushed right along with me. I'm also so afraid that, by sharing my hope here with all of you, I might be jinxing it! I always prided myself on being factual, logical, grounded.... now I fear cancer is making me all religious and superstitious!

But I can't keep the news to myself any longer. If I jinx myself, so be it!

Taxol gave me hope. The most unexpected drug has given me hope for a future. Taxol was a drug that was given to buy me more time. It was meant to keep the "cancer at bay" and "minimize the pain from my metastasis." After years of enrolling in clinical trials and taking the latest, greatest, best, most touted new medicines, Taxol, first discovered back in 1967, has turned out to be "The Drug" that I was hoping for! At least for now....

When I last got scans back at the beginning of October, my tumor markers were extremely high. The most important tumor marker in my blood that my doctors look at each week is called CA 27-29 and it is a tumor marker that breast cancer cells leave behind in patient's blood. Normally, in a healthy person, CA 27-29 counts range between 0-38. My CA 27-29 count was 965! This critically high tumor marker number is what prompted all the discussion about getting my affairs in order and it's what prompted getting a CT scan earlier than expected, which is what uncovered the tumors in my lungs and bones.

Well ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to tell you that my blood work this past month has been steadily dropping! The first few weeks of Taxol, they didn't take any tumor marker bloodwork. They wanted my body to get used to my new drug before trying to measure its efficacy. November 2nd was the big day. November 2nd, I went in with Big Man and Mom to meet with my doctor to find out the results of my first tumor marker test on Taxol. I was petrified! I was so scared that the Taxol wouldn't have had an effect and we would be one more drug closer to death.

I was prepared to give you all an update on my hair loss and impending doom on November 2nd when, to my surprise, I was told my tumor markers had dropped from 965 to 587. I was shocked, I was thrilled,  I was completely unprepared for this foreign thing we call "Good News." However, I was still afraid. I realized then that I was afraid to hope. Cancer had left me jaded and afraid of hope.

Unable to share the news for fear of a jinx, I simply stayed silent. I stayed off the radar. As unused to good news as I had become, I continued planning as if the good news hadn't happened. I still want to schedule a meeting with my priest, but I no longer had nightmares about the pearly gates.

Then, at my appointment on November 16th, my markers fell to 300!

Then, at this week's appointment, my marker fell to 234!

I feel a little bit like I'm watching a Thanksgiving football game, and my team just got a first down. Improbable as it might be, we got another first down, and then another. The TD is now within my sites. I'm allowing myself to dream. I'm allowing myself to set goals. If I could get down below 100... 38 could be attainable. 38 means normal. How I would love to be normal! I'm right there in field goal range of normal. I can taste it.

November has allowed me to hope.

Back in October, my doctor told Big Man and me to go on a trip. We should take a trip so that we could take quality time away together while I was still feeling good, today. My bone pain was manageable with Advil, today. We needed to take advantage of our time together because we were together, today. So we did, we booked a trip to Europe at Christmas and we're so excited! But our excitement was also tinged with sadness. What was this trip? People take honeymoons. People now take "Babymoons." What was this a "Goodbye-moon?"

 Now with this good news, that trip has taken on such a more fun and exciting feel. What other good news might we celebrate come Christmas? Maybe we could finally be like other couples and truly leave our worries at home? Maybe in the New Year we could start imagining a new home in our future? A home where we had the room to host more than 6 people for Thanksgiving dinner? A home of our very own, not an 800 sq foot condo? A home that we could decorate as we see fit for the Christmas holiday? A home that we could call our forever home? A home with space for an office AND a nursery? A nursery.

At chemo on November 23rd, instead of blogging as I should have, or answering emails as I should have, I allowed myself to google adoption resources in Massachusetts. I bookmarked the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. If I get those tumor markers down to 38, down to the normal patient range, I'm going to allow myself to call their 800 number and start asking questions. Then maybe in 2013, when we're in our new forever home, I could actually schedule a home study. Hey, a girl can hope can't she?

I may be bald and covered in acne. I might not recognize myself in the mirror. I may have daily nosebleeds. I may have to sleep 13 hours every night, but at least I have hope. Those are just inconveniences. I wouldn't even elevate them to the level of "side effects." They are a mere nuisance, and they are a small price to pay for hope.

I realize as I'm writing this that I am getting all excited about just one month's worth of results. I know this is a marathon and not a sprint. I know that things can turn on a dime. But this Thanksgiving, I'm so Thankful for hope. I'm so Thankful for just one more day; just one more year. I don't want to get too greedy. I don't want to get ahead of myself. But I do want to take a moment and enjoy that future so many people take for granted. Thanks, God.